Deli meat can be complicated for pregnant women. And yes, that includes lunch meat and cold cuts. Pregnant women are advised to be mindful of meat during pregnancy, but why? Today we’re going to chat about what the BEST practices are, and how you can make best choices for yourself.
But first, how do I know all of this? Hi — I’m Hilary — The Pregnancy Nurse 👩⚕️. I have been a nurse since 1997 and I have 20 years of OB nursing experience, I am also the curly head behind Pulling Curls and The Online Prenatal Class for Couples. 🩺 I have talked to thousands of pregnant women about what they’re eating and what is safest. So, I’m a great resource for this.
Before we get started, I have some GREAT safe eating resources that I think you’ll find helpful:
Eating Deli Meats During Your Pregnancy: Is it Safe?
ACOG (the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) recommends that pregnant women not consume deli meats cold. It can contain harmful bacteria that are both easier to have an issue with when you’re pregnant, but it is also more harmful to them/the baby if they get infected with it.
Why Do They Advise Not to Eat Deli Meat When I’m Pregnant?
The bacteria is called Listeria. It is obviously in meats for everyone (not just pregnant people) but those who are pregnant are at 10 times greater risk of getting listeriosis (which is a food-born illness). It is also found on soft cheese (non-pasteurized cheeses — if you look carefully it will tell on the wrapper if it is pasteurized or not).
What is Listeriosis and Why is It Harmful During Pregnancy?
Listeriosis can cause flu-like symptoms including:
- Muscle Aches
- Stomach Upset, vomiting or diarrhea
- May also include: stiff neck, headache, confusion, or loss of balance
The vomiting and diarrhea can cause pregnant women to be dehydrated.
And, even if you don’t feel sick you can pass it on to the baby in the womb.
Pregnant women with it are at high risk of miscarriage, still birth, or preterm labor.
Listeriosis can have larger consequences if passed on to the baby, including infections of the blood or brain.
So, it CAN Be pretty serious. That being said, a lot of the literature is really clear that there is actually a VERY minimal of actual risk to you or your baby. But, the risk is there, so they educate you.
I don’t think that I’ve actually seen a case of listeriosis during my career (since 2001)… in case that gives you an idea how rare it is.
Why Is There Listeria In Deli Meat?
Listeria is a bacteria that can cause food poisoning. It can be found in all meats. It is important to cook all meat thoroughly to kill the bacteria.
We single-out deli meat because it is most often eaten “raw” and it listeria could still be present — vs hamburger where most people know you need to cook it thoroughly.
How can pregnant women eat cold cuts safely?
Pregnant women can eat cold cuts, but they need to take care to eat them safely. Hot dogs, lunch meat, and deli meat can all be sources of bacteria that can harm pregnant women and their babies. Pregnant women should heat cold cuts before eating them to kill any harmful bacteria.
How do I heat Deli Meat to Make it Pregnancy-Safe, and For How Long?
The guideline is that the meat should be steaming. SO, however you do that — and if you see steam, you should be good to go.
- heat it in a frying pan until steaming
- heat it in the oven until steaming
Often, I’d melt cheese on top of it in the oven to quickly made a sandwich afterwards
This, again, goes for ALL types of meat — hot dogs, bacon, etc. Should all be heated to steaming
Are There Other Guidelines that Can Reduce My Exposure?
There are a lot of guidelines you should follow to prepare food safely:
- Wash your hands before preparation
- Make sure you are using clean tools & equipment in food preparation
- Don’t store items for a long time in the fridge — as the bacteria can grow with time.
- Use a thermometer and meat temperature guidelines
- Don’t let the meats touch other foods prior to cooking them (unless that food is being cooked as well)
Be sure to ask your provider if there are other things to be aware of in your own circumstances.
Deli Meat During Pregnancy FAQ’s
Is It Safe to Eat Nitrate-Free Deli Meat When Pregnant?
Prior to this, I have only spoken of the risk due to Listeriosis, but the FDA does recommend that you search for meat that is nitrite-free (it will be on the packaging).
Some people seem to recommend that pregnant women avoid deli meat that is not nitrate-free, as this could expose them to high levels of nitrates, which can be harmful to unborn babies. I don’t see any studies on nitrites and issues during pregnancy, although there seems to be some thought that it can cause preterm labor.
This study shows that there is no link between nitrites and birth defects.
So, in large quantities, you might want to avoid nitrites, but in general you might want to avoid them.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Pepperoni or Salami if it’s on Pizza?
Pregnant women can still eat pepperoni and salami if it is on pizza. They just need to make sure that the deli meat is steaming hot. This will help to kill any bacteria that may be present.
As far as I understand it doesn’t need to be steaming the entire time you eat it, it just have just recently been steaming — if that makes sense.
How can I make sure my meat is safely cooked?
You’ll just want to either cook it, or see it served steaming.
What about hot dogs and bacon during pregnancy?
Hot dogs and bacon both often have higher amounts of nitrites in them. As I said above, it might be something to avoid as some animal studies have shown it to be problematic, no such studies have been replicated in humans.
Is it safe to eat grilled or blackened meat during pregnancy?
Pregnant women are often advised to avoid eating grilled or blackened meat because of the potential for exposure to carcinogens. However, the National Cancer Institute states that there is no evidence that grilled or blackened meat is unsafe for pregnant women to eat. They advise pregnant women to consult with their doctor or dietitian if they have concerns about eating grilled or blackened meat.
Is it safe to eat meat from livestock that were given antibiotics?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it is safe to eat meat from livestock that were given antibiotics. Pregnant women, however, should avoid eating certain types of meat and poultry. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pregnant women eat only cooked meats and poultry. Pregnancy and parenting can be a difficult time, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need.
What Happens If I Eat Deli Meat While Pregnant?
I would mention it to your provider at your next appointment. I can assure you that MANY pregnant women eat cold cuts during pregnancy without issue — as I said above this is a pretty rare condition that we just caution against.
I would also be mindful of any symptoms and if you think you have symptoms be sure to contact your provider ASAP. Be sure to mention that it could be listeriosis due to recent contact. The crazy thing is that it can actually take up to 2 months for symptoms to appear — so just be watchful…
But, remember that constant stress is also not great for your baby — so remembering that it is SUPER rare, keeping an eye out and moving on is probably your best bet.
When Can I Resume Eating Processed Meats?
Once the baby is out, you no longer can harm them with the processed meat. Your chance of getting the infection is still higher for a bit due to your body healing from pregnancy/delivery but you would not be passing it onto the baby (which is the biggest risk).
Why Would Salami Be Problematic During Pregnancy?
Help – I’m Pregnant and I ate Deli Meat!
Like I said before, you can decide that it’s something you are not going to do again, but there isn’t really a reason to stress out about it. Just be watchful of any symptoms, and go about doing your business. 🙂
Ok, that’s deli meats for my pregnant friends. Hope you found that helpful. One thing you’ll really find helpful is a prenatal class. The Online Prenatal Class for Couples really breaks down difficult topics like this into bite-sized chunks that are easy to understand. PLUS you can do it in just three hours. Come join me!
And, if you’re not quite sure you’re ready for that whole thing, check out the free lesson from it. It’s your first step toward getting in the driver’s seat of your birth.
And, be sure to grab my healthy pregnancy eating resources:
- About the Author
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A nurse since 1997, she has worked in various fields including pediatrics, geriatrics & hospice. She has 20 years of labor and delivery experience in the San Jose, CA and Phoenix, AZ areas.
As an evidence-based prenatal educator Hilary has delivered thousands of babies and has educated hundreds of thousands of parents from a diverse patient population to help them have a confident birth.