When you’re pregnant, the best way to take care of your baby is to take care of yourself. When it comes to your diet, meat is a nutritious option and an easy way to get essential nutrients like protein and iron. But it might surprise you to learn that deli or lunch meats are a no-go for pregnant people.
Keep reading to learn why doctors put most deli meats (and a few other foods) on the do-not-eat list when you’re pregnant. And find out what deli meats are safe during pregnancy.
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Can Pregnant People Eat Lunch Meat?
Lunch meat refers to all cooked meats sliced at the deli counter or packaged sliced meats. They’re convenient for a quick meal or protein-packed snack. And you might assume that your turkey sandwich loaded with veggies is healthier than grabbing takeout.
But doctors caution pregnant people against eating lunch meat and a few other foods because there’s a slight risk of Listeria infection. Listeria is a rare but harmful bacteria that can cause a serious food-borne illness.
Listeria can live in water, soil, or animal manure, which farmers use as fertilizer. You can get Listeria by eating:
- Raw vegetables or fruits, like melons that come in contact with Listeria in the soil.
- Contaminated meat.
- Unpasteurized milk, cheese, or other foods made with unpasteurized milk. These might say “raw milk” on the label.
- Processed meats and cheeses that come in contact with Listeria after processing. These include deli all meats like turkey, corned beef, or bologna, hot dogs, dried cured meats like salami, pate, and soft cheeses.
Pregnant patients are about 10 times more likely than other people to get Listeria infection. And among pregnant Hispanic patients, the risk of Listeria infection is about 24 times higher.
Listeria During Pregnancy
It’s rare for healthy people to get seriously ill from Listeria. But for pregnant people, older adults, and those with a weakened immune system, it’s far more dangerous. Symptoms of Listeria infection (also known as Listeriosis) include:
- Flu-like symptoms, like muscle aches and fatigue.
- Stiff neck.
- Loss of balance.
Pregnant patients usually have mild symptoms, but Listeria is very dangerous for your unborn baby because it can cause:
- Premature delivery.
- A life-threatening illness in your newborn baby.
State and government agencies monitor potential outbreaks of Listeria and will issue a recall for widespread contamination. If you’re pregnant and think you ate recalled food, contact your doctor as soon as possible. Doctors can treat Listeriosis with antibiotics to protect you and your baby.
What Deli Meats Are Safe During Pregnancy?
To be completely safe, avoid deli or lunch meats until after your baby is born. You should also avoid these soft cheeses unless the label says they’re made with pasteurized milk:
- Blue cheese.
- Mexican-style cheeses like queso fresco, queso blanco, or panela.
If you want to eat any deli meat, hot dogs, or cured meat, the CDC recommends heating it until it steams. You can heat it in a pan on the stove or in the microwave. Listeria can survive refrigeration or freezing but won’t survive at temperatures over 165 degrees.
It’s also wise to take these precautions to protect yourself and your family from Listeria:
- Always wash your hands and use clean cutting boards and knives before handling food. Wash all surfaces and utensils that have come in contact with cooked or uncooked foods.
- Refrigerate all deli meats, hot dogs, and cured meats or sausages. Use unopened packages within two weeks and opened packages of deli meats within three to five days.
- Don’t use raw milk products. Only consume milk or milk products labeled as pasteurized.
- Avoid pate or fresh prepared salads like chicken, egg, or tuna salad from the grocery store. Listeria is more likely to grow in prepared, refrigerated salads.
- Eat cut melon immediately or refrigerate it and eat it within seven days.
The chance of becoming infected with Listeria from lunch meat is pretty rare. Food manufacturers take steps to prevent it before packaging.
If you’re pregnant and have previously eaten deli meat, don’t worry. But it’s probably best to satisfy any future cravings for an Italian sub until after delivery.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Listeria (Listeriosis). LINK
About UPMC Magee-Womens
Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.
Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.