Listeria and pregnancy - what you need to know

It can be hard to know what foods you should and shouldn't be eating when you are pregnant. 

Aside from the nutrition aspect there is also the food safety aspect - in particular avoiding listeria. 

In healthy adults and children, listeriosis causes few or no symptoms or may have flu like symptoms. Symptoms may include headache, fever, tiredness and aches and pains. Less common symptoms include diarrhoea, nausea and abdominal cramps. 

For those with weakened immune systems the infection may lead to illness including septicaemia (blood infection), meningitis (infection and inflammation of membranes surrounding the brain) and even death.

Symptoms in pregnant women may appear mild, but listeriosis can cause miscarriage, premature birth, or stillbirth. It is important that pregnant women who have symptoms of listeriosis seek medical attention immediately.

It can take weeks after infection for symptoms to appear so sufferers may not be aware they have listeriosis and may not seek medical advice. 


According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand the following high-risk foods should be avoided:

  • Ready-to-eat seafood; smoked fish or mussels, oysters or raw seafood such as sashimi or sushi

  • Pre-prepared or pre-packaged fruit and vegetable salads including those available from buffets. This includes pre cut fruit like watermelon.

  • Drinks made from fresh fruit and vegetables where washing procedures are unknown

  • Deli meats which are eaten without further cooking or heating, such as pate, ham and salami

  • cold cooked ready- to-eat chicken (whole, portions, or diced) 

  • Any unpasteurised milk or foods made from unpasteurised milk

  • Soft-serve icecreams

  • Soft cheeses, such as brie, camembert, ricotta and feta (these are safe if cooked and served hot)

  • Ready-to-eat foods, including leftover meats, which have been refrigerated for more than one day

  • Dips and salad dressings in which vegetables may have been dipped

  • Raw vegetable garnishes.


Some hints when handling and preparing food


When you handle and prepare food, you should take care to:

  • Wash your hands before preparing food, and between handling raw food and ready-to-eat foods

  • Wash raw fruit and vegetables well before eating

  • Cook all foods of animal origin, including eggs, thoroughly

  • Don't use the same boards and knives for cooked foods that you used for raw foods unless they have been washed in warm, soapy water

  • Defrost food by placing it on the lower shelves of the fridge or use a microwave.


When you store food, you should:

  • Keep food covered

  • Place cooked food in the fridge within one hour of cooking

  • Put raw meat, poultry and fish below cooked or ready-to-eat food in the fridge to prevent drips that could contaminate pre-prepared food

  • Do not use refrigerated foods beyond their use-by dates.

  • Keep your fridge clean.


Food temperatures

  • Your fridge temperature should be below 5°C

  • Keep hot foods hot (above 60°C) and cold foods cold (at or below 5°C)

  • Reheat food until the internal temperature of the food is piping hot 

  • Ensure microwaved food reaches an even temperature before eating


Prevention is best - although listeria is is uncommon, it is dangerous to pregnant women and their unborn babies. Avoiding high risk foods, along with preparing mostly fresh food safety and storing them correctly will reduce any chance of a listeria infection. Of course it is up to you whether you avoid certain foods during pregnancy but it is important to have this knowledge to decide what is right for you.

If you concerned about your diet during pregnancy or want further individual advice around food safety get in touch with Kathleen.


Happy eating!

 Kathleen Halliday

Paediatric Dietitian & Lactation Consultant – Healthy Start Nutrition


 This website and information on this blog post is provided for educational purposes. It is not meant or intended to replace Dietetic assessment/ management or medical care for a child. It is recommended that you discuss any concerns or questions you might have about your child’s feeding/nutrition with Kathleen individually and develop an individualised plan specifically for your child.


About the author of this blog post

Kathleen Halliday is a Paediatric Dietitian & Lactation Consultant with extensive experience working with children and their families – especially around fussy eating, stressful mealtimes, growth concerns and nutritional management of many medical conditions.

Healthy Start Nutrition is a private practice based in Melbourne, Victoria.

You can connect with Kathleen via her website or follow Healthy Start Nutrition on Facebook and Instagram.

Healthy Start Nutrition