Placenta Encapsulation Safety
Last week placenta encapsulation made the news. Normally this is a great thing, we love when women learn about their options and can research if a new option is a good choice for their family during pregnancy and postpartum. However, this time placenta encapsulation safety was the topic of the news and it was not fun. There was a sick baby and placenta pills are being considered as a possible source of the illness. That sounds scary doesn’t it? It sure does to me!
The best news about this story is that the baby is now healthy, but there is a lot of misinformation being shared online about the safety of placenta encapsulation….and a lot of confusion. At Great Expectations, when it comes to dealing with placentas it is always SAFETY FIRST – our client’s and our own. I liken the safety first attitude to my fear of flying because every time I get on a plane I am convinced the plane is going down. When it is raining I think it must be too wet for the plane to take off. If it is sunny I think it is too hot and if it is storming I think we are all pretty much about to go down in a blaze of unwanted glory. But here is the thing – the pilot doesn’t want to crash anymore than I do! He is not going to taxi the plane out to the runway thinking “It’s just too stormy to fly – but here goes nothing!”. He has family too, and you know, a life.
We don’t want to encapsulate your placenta just so you might get sick. That is the exact opposite of our goal in fact! We love expecting families and babies and we are not just winging it. Like the smart pilot in my scenario, my training allows me to determine when placenta encapsulation is safe and when it may not be and also when to call a delay while we figure it out. My training allows me to understand what makes the process safe and what can make it unsafe.
We know that one of the ways to ensure that placentas are safe for encapsulation is to follow the evidenced based guidelines established in food safety procedures. These are the same procedures that chefs use to ensure that mass food poisoning does not break out at their restaurants. We also know that OSHA has really good guidelines for cleaning things and understanding how to avoid the spread of blood borne pathogens and infection control. (If you are reading this post and not using us to do your placenta – you should ask who ever is doing yours if they are trained in food safety and if they carry a blood borne pathogen certification! Nobody wants to use a pilot that learned to fly by watching a Youtube channel about the Wright Brothers!)
Placentas and Food Safety
We know THREE major things about placenta safety based on the principles of food safety and blood borne pathogens:
- Meat must be heated to an internal temperature of 140F to be safe for consumption. Therefore, placentas processed at a temperature of less than 140 degrees do not meet food safety guidelines and can cause illness.
- Perishable food must be refrigerated (or frozen) within 2 hours at a temperature less than 40F as checked by appliance thermometer. Therefore placentas stored at temps above 40F for more than 2 hours are unsafe and can cause illness.
- Bleach and other EPA registered disinfectants used properly kill dangerous disease causing pathogens. Essential oils and sunshine do not.
Just using these three principles you can discern a lot about the safety of the process and also understand the processes that we must monitor to ensure everyone’s safety. Placentas MUST be heated to 140F to insure safety. We actually dehydrate at 160F, above the required standard and we do not offer any raw preparation that does not include heating the internal temperature of the placenta to 140 prior to dehydration.
Placentas must be refrigerated properly. This includes prior to pickup if it will take longer than 2 hours from the time your placenta leaves your body and lands in a refrigerator – and let’s face it – in most areas that is almost a given with traffic and distance. Placentas should not be stored in iced down coolers for long periods of time without the temperature being monitored. In our practice, we have medical couriers pick up placentas from hospitals because it is consistently the quickest and safest way to get placentas into the safe temperature zone. While we love our families, safe organ transport is often more reliable with professionals. (We have known a grandmother who was in charge of putting a placenta in the fridge who were so excited about meeting her grandbaby that she left the placenta in the car overnight!) While there are other safe methods for placenta transport, we have chosen the medical couriers because it gives us the most oversight on safety.
Poor storage can lead to illness – thus temperatures should be monitored and placentas processed in a timely manner. Placentas should be processed promptly and not left “chilling out” in fridges for days on end. We have several storage refrigerators at our work space so not only are placentas not stored near food as they might be in a domestic fridge, the temperature of the refrigerator is set below 40F and stays consistent as the doors are never opened outside of the placenta being put in and taken out for processing. (For us, placentas are only stored when they come in over night, so luckily storage is not much of an issue.)
Everything that comes in contact with blood, placenta or placenta waste should be disposed of or properly cleaned. I know, many of us don’t love bleach, but we should dislike things like c-diff and HIV even more (though placentas with these illnesses cannot be released in Texas, so no worries there!). Bleach and other EPA registered disinfectants should be used at every stage of the process, there is just no substitute. Bleach and proper hand washing is really more about the encapsulators safety than yours. Encapsulators prefer to stay well just as the pilot prefers to not crash. Disposable items should be used for anything that touches the placenta, but for us, anything that does touch a placenta is bleached in our large sink (bought for this purpose!) according to OSHA standards. Between disposing of infections materials and using copious amounts of bleach – cross contamination is avoided.
When might placenta encapsulation be unsafe?
Not every family should choose placenta encapsulation. As with everything there can be risks. You and your care provider can weigh that risk/benefit analysis together as you do other important decisions concerning your health and postpartum recovery. However, beyond the placenta not being able to be processed due to a need for it to go to pathology or not being stored safely prior to processing, the biggest reason we will not encapsulate is if the client or the baby has an infection at the time of delivery or within 24 hours of that time. That is a contraindication and we will not process. (We will however refund you, so don’t withhold this information due to money concerns!)
We don’t know exactly what happened with the baby in Oregon. It is been thought that the encapsulator did not follow food safety guidelines and thus the infection that the mother/baby was not killed in the dehydrating process though that has not been confirmed by the CDC or the encapsulater. It has also been theorized that poor hand washing played a role. However, we do know that the baby was diagnosed with an infection within 24 hours of delivery so the placenta should have been deemed not suitable for encapsulation. I am not casting blame here, in all likelihood the encapsulator had no idea about the infection and the parents were too concerned about their sick baby to think about contacting the encapsulator. However, it does serve as a reminder to those of us doing professional encapsulation to review our safety protocol and our communication with clients.
As such, Great Expectations and DFW Placenta have added information in our contract about how to contact us in case of an infection after we have picked up the placenta. We are double checking that our storage and cleaning systems are still the most effective ones available and we recommit to ourselves and our clients that safety is always our top priority.
Do you have questions or concerns? Contact us and let us help!