Pregnant women can learn how to protect themselves and their babies from the risks of foodborne illness — such as the recent melon-related listeria outbreak — thanks to a joint effort between Ohio State University and Colorado State University.
The educational program, “Healthy Baby, Healthy Me,” is available in both English and Spanish for free download at http://foodsafety.osu.edu/curriculum/hbhm/.
“Most pregnant women don’t think of themselves as being at greater risk for foodborne illness during pregnancy. But, because they are naturally immune-suppressed, they are more at risk for foodborne illnesses than other adults,” said Lydia Medeiros, one of the project’s principal investigators and food safety specialist with Ohio State University Extension.
Medeiros and Pat Kendall, Extension specialist and associate dean for research at Colorado State, have worked on the project since 2006 with $1.5 million in funding from the National Integrated Food Safety Initiative within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“In our research, we found that most pregnant women never made the connection between food safety and the health of the baby,” Kendall said.
Healthy Baby, Healthy Me focuses on four pathogens of special concern for pregnant women: Listeria monocytogenes, Toxoplasma gondii, Salmonella and Campylobacter. These pathogens can infect not only the women, but can affect the unborn child, causing possible abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, or physical or mental health issues at birth.
The lessons include information on the pathogens of concern, foods most associated with these pathogens, and what the women can do to reduce their risk and protect the health of their babies.
The researchers tested the efficacy of their curriculum with pregnant women attending special Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program classes offered by Extension in metropolitan Columbus in Ohio, and in Pueblo and Greeley in Colorado. They collected pre- and post-program data from 546 pregnant women.
“The educational program is very much a product of the people,” said Medeiros, who also is a scientist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and professor of human nutrition in Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology. "Pregnant women told us what they wanted to learn, and how they wanted to learn about it.”
The Healthy Baby, Healthy Me curriculum is designed to be taught in a classroom or clinic setting, but having the lessons and handouts available for free download on the website makes the information directly available to pregnant women and anyone else needing the information.
“The lessons include great handouts in English and Spanish that anyone can download,” Kendall said. The researchers envision the lessons being used in doctors’ offices; prenatal classes; Women, Infant, Children – or WIC– classes; and, of course, Extension programs.
“The website has the complete package, from a Teacher’s Guide that provides extensive background information to promotion materials to PowerPoint presentations, how-to videos and evaluation forms,” Kendall said. “We wanted to make everything as widely available as possible.”
Also involved in the project were Janet Buffer, research associate at Ohio State, and Mary Schroeder, Extension food safety specialist at Colorado State.
OSU Extension and OARDC are the outreach and research arms, respectively, of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.