Bean sprouts are low in fat and calories and supply several key nutrients, but in most cases you'll have to pass on them while pregnant. Though the sprouts do supply vitamin and minerals you need to support a healthy pregnancy, the sprouts can also be contaminated with bacteria that pose severe dangers to your unborn baby. In fact, since 1993, there have been 55 documented cases of food-borne illness affecting more than 15,000 people due to contaminated sprouts, according to a 2013 article published in "Food Control."
How Sprouts Are Contaminated
The very same warm and moist conditions that help bean sprouts grow also encourage the growth of a number of types of bacteria, according to FoodSafety.gov. Bean sprouts can become contaminated if bacteria is present in the manure farmers spread on fields to feed their crops. If the facilities where the sprouts are processed aren't sanitary, the sprouts can also be contaminated there. For example, if a food handler has the bacteria on his hands and doesn't wash them, he can transfer the bacteria to the sprouts.
Contracting salmonellosis, caused by salmonella bacteria, during pregnancy can be dangerous for you and your unborn baby, according to the March of Dimes. Salmonella bacteria can be found in the feces of animals, and if it comes into contact with bean sprouts, it can be transferred to the food. The infection causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and headache, and symptoms usually appear 12 to 72 hours after infection. If your unborn baby becomes infected, it can cause meningitis or fever and diarrhea after birth, the March of Dimes notes.
E. Coli Infection
If E. coli from fecal matter contaminates bean sprouts, it can cause fever, stomach cramps and diarrhea, which can be bloody. E. coli doesn't cause birth defects, according to the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists, but it can cause you to become dehydrated because of the diarrhea. Though rare, an E. coli infection can cause heavy bleeding, miscarriage or premature delivery.
Ingesting listeria bacteria from contaminated produce such as bean sprouts can cause listeriosis, and pregnant women are more susceptible to the infection, according to the American Pregnancy Association. The symptoms of listeriosis appear between two and 30 days after being exposed and include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and muscle aches. The infection can also lead to miscarriage, premature delivery or infection to the newborn. In 22 percent of cases, stillbirth or neonatal death occur, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
Do not eat raw bean sprouts while you're pregnant. Rinsing and washing the sprouts won't destroy the bacteria. If you eat at a restaurant, ask your server to keep the bean sprouts off your entree, which often come on Asian stir-fry dishes. If you want to eat bean sprouts, fully cook them. Exposing the bacteria to sustained heat will destroy the microbes so that the sprouts are safe to eat.