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Soft Cheese and Food Safety Risk During Pregnancy

February 25, 2014 by Andrea Godfreyson, Registered Dietitian

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Being pregnant, three things have happened that I didn’t expect: (1) I've been asked very personal questions by not so close acquaintances, (2) my belly has been rubbed by people I wouldn’t otherwise be touched by, and (3) I have become a magnet for receiving free advice, including about nutrition.Sometimes it can be tough to know if information passed on by friends and family is up to date. Luckily in BC, there's free access to registered dietitians at HealthLink BC. We can help provide you with the evidence-informed information you need. Here are the straight facts on the safety of eating soft cheese during pregnancy.

What's the risk?

Food borne illness can result from eating soft cheese, even when it's pasteurized. This is because there's a possibility that soft cheese has been contaminated by Listeria after pasteurization. Also, soft cheese's high moisture content makes it a good breeding ground for Listeria to multiply.

Listeria is a bacterium that can lead to serious illness (listeriosis). When you're pregnant, this illness can cause miscarriage or stillbirth, or for your baby to be very sick when he/she is born. According to the BC Center for Disease Control, pregnant women are about ten times more likely to get listeriosis than the general population. Unfortunately, there have been cases in BC where eating soft pasteurized cheese has led to illness for mother and baby.

What's the recommendation?

To avoid this risk, it's recommended that pregnant women avoid eating all uncooked soft cheese, even if it's pasteurized. This includes products like brie, camembert, feta, Mexican-style soft cheeses and mould-ripened cheese like gorgonzola.

Foods containing these cheeses need to be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 74C (measured with a food thermometer) before they're eaten. This is also the case for other foods that are at high risk for Listeria contamination. And of course, following safe food handling practices is also an important step in preventing food borne illness.

What kinds of cheese are safe to eat during pregnancy?

There are lots of delicious cheeses that are considered safe to eat during pregnancy. Here are a few:

  • Pasteurized hard or firm cheese such as cheddar, swiss, gouda, parmesan, brick, emmental, and provolone
  • Most pasteurized semi-soft cheese like mozzarella, havarti and monterey jack (not mould-ripened cheese like blue cheese)
  • Processed cheese
  • Cottage cheese 
  • Cream cheese

What if I have already eaten high risk foods during pregnancy?

If you have any of the following symptoms (up to two months after you eat a potentially contaminated food), or are concerned about having eaten a contaminated food, see your doctor.

The symptoms of listeriosis are similar to the flu and include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • muscle aches

The good news is, if you've eaten something previously in your pregnancy that may have been risky and didn’t experience symptoms, most experts believe you don't need any tests or treatment. Just use the information moving forward to help guide your eating to keep you and your baby safe.

Where can I get more information?

Check out the Eat Safely, Eat Well: Food Safety During Pregnancy booklet for more information on food safety during pregnancy including ways to prevent other types of food borne illness.

For general information on how to eat well during pregnancy and other foods to avoid, check out the Healthy Eating Guidelines for Pregnancy.


Photo Credit: iStock

Recommended Resources:

Food Safety During Pregnancy
Foods to Limit or Avoid When You're Pregnant

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