Is It Safe to Eat Lunch Meat During Pregnancy?

by | Jan 5, 2024 | Birth Parent Blog

Deli employee serving a pregnant customer her orderWhen you’re pregnant, it’s important to eat healthy foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. You should also eat proteins like meat and cheese. But lunch meat and some soft cheese can be a problem for pregnant women because they can carry dangerous contaminants. Despite this, many pregnant women still eat deli meats. You might be asking yourself, “Is it safe to eat lunch meat during pregnancy?”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), if you are pregnant, you’re at a higher risk of getting an infection called listeria that’s in some lunch meats and soft cheese.
Listeria is a serious infection. Approximately 1,600 people get a listeria infection called “listeriosis” yearly. Every year, around 260 people die from this infection. Also at high risk are older adults, individuals with weakened immune systems, cancer patients, and individuals with diabetes. But healthy adults and non-pregnant women are unlikely to get listeria from processed meats.

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What to Know About Listeria From Lunch Meat

Listeria bacteria is the third leading cause of death from food poisoning in the United States. These bacteria live in water and soil, and some animals carry them. Even though the animals don’t get sick, they transfer bacteria to foods like meat and dairy products.
Listeria is a serious infection for pregnant women because:

  • Pregnant women with a Listeria infection pass their condition to their unborn babies.
  • Listeria causes stillbirths, miscarriages, and preterm labor.
  • Pregnant women are ten times more likely to get this infection.
  • Listeria infection can make you very sick and cause death in your newborn baby.

What Are the Symptoms of Listeria?

Listeria symptoms are usually mild, depending on the individual. Symptoms of listeria include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Mild to high fever
  • Achiness in joints and muscles
  • Cold or cough

Severe cases of listeria are rare but can cause symptoms such as:

  • Meningitis
  • Encephalitis
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Stiff neck

The good news is that listeria infections are rare in pregnant women and their babies. But it’s good to be careful eating lunch meat during pregnancy.
Happy pregnant woman eating an open-face sandwich

How to Safely Enjoy Processed Meats

“To be frank with you, whilst they may be convenient and tasty, deli meats are NOT a great choice. during pregnancy…However, if you do decide to eat processed meats, reheat until they are steaming hot (above 170 degrees Fahrenheit) and eat them as soon as they are cool enough to touch,” shares prenatal dietician Melanie McGrice. Truly, the best disease control prevention is to cook all lunch meat, cold cuts, hot dogs, and other processed meats while pregnant. Avoid eating deli meats at restaurants or delis.
Even though microwaves are convenient for heating meats, it’s not the most reliable way to heat your lunch meats. Microwaves don’t heat food evenly, so it’s hard to know if all the meat is heated through completely.
Lunch meat is safe during pregnancy if it’s heated through completely until it’s steaming hot. Then it would be best if you ate it right away. Cook the meat in a skillet or oven to be sure the food is cooked evenly.
Be sure to wash your utensils and surfaces thoroughly because the fluid from meat packages will contaminate other foods.

Dairy Products and Lunch Meats to Avoid

There’s a long list of meats and cheeses to avoid when pregnant. Is lunch meat safe for pregnant women? It’s okay for pregnant women to eat lunch meat if it’s cooked thoroughly.
Of course, when you can’t cook the meat, the best thing is to skip it. If you’re pregnant, here are the lunch meats and dairy foods to avoid.
Soft cheese with white rinds:

  • Brie
  • Camembert
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Camembert cheese
  • Feta cheese
  • Mozzarella
  • Cheeses made from unpasteurized raw milk
  • Queso Blanco
  • Queso fresco
  • Panela

Cheeses with blue veins:

  • Danish blue
  • Gorgonzola
  • Brie cheese
  • Roquefort

Uncooked meats:

  • Hot dogs
  • Deli meat
  • Cold cuts
  • Undercooked beef, pork, or poultry
  • Ham
  • Bologna
  • Meat spreads
  • Pate

Raw fish and shellfish:

  • Swordfish
  • King Mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Orange Roughy
  • Bigeye Suna
  • Sushi
  • Smoked Seafood

Other foods:

  • Unpasteurized juices
  • Unpasteurized milk

Keep in mind that the risk of getting listeria from your everyday eating is low (even among pregnant women), so don’t stress if you’ve been enjoying some deli meats now and again.

Healthy Meals for Pregnancy

Now that you understand the risks of eating certain meats and cheese during pregnancy, you might wonder, “Where can I find recipes for healthy pregnancy meals?” or even, “Can you eat spicy food while pregnant?”
When you’re pregnant, your baby eats what you eat, so it’s crucial to choose a variety of healthy foods with essential vitamins and nutrients. It’s also important to eat healthy pregnancy meals to reduce the risk of pregnancy complications and keep your weight gain on track.
You can find delicious and healthy pregnancy recipes packed with nutrients and fiber, protein, and good fats to keep you satisfied on this Pregnancy Meal Plan: 30+ Healthy and Delicious Recipes or by reading through these 21 Quick & Easy Dinners for Healthy Pregnancy. Also, check out our blog for quick and simple recipes: “Easy-to-Prepare Foods for Pregnant Women.”
While the list of foods to avoid when you’re pregnant is long, you’ll be happy to hear that spicy food isn’t on that list! Eating spicy foods is generally safe for both you and your baby. However, spicy foods may cause uncomfortable side effects for pregnant women, like heartburn and indigestion. Both these issues are common during pregnancy no matter what they eat, but spicy foods may make these issues even worse.
Even though spicy foods may make you uncomfortable, it’s completely safe to indulge those cravings if you find yourself craving the heat!

Hunger Pangs During Pregnancy

“Is it normal to be extra hungry in early pregnancy?” is a question many pregnant women have asked themselves and their friends. If you ever feel like you’re never full, know that you’re not alone. This is a very common side effect in early pregnancy.
Your changing hormones can make you feel hungry at any time. While you don’t want to overeat to control your pregnancy weight gain, you’ll also want to avoid the symptoms of not eating enough while pregnant. Eating plenty of fiber-rich food and drinking plenty of fluids can help you feel fuller for longer.
During pregnancy, your body gets more efficient at using the energy from the foods you eat. Even though you may feel starving, you don’t actually need any extra calories during your first six months of pregnancy. Once you enter your third trimester, you’ll need an extra 200 calories a day. As always, make sure to ask your doctor for their recommendations about your pregnancy diet.

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on July 28, 2015, and has since been updated. 

Heidi Keefer

Written by Heidi Keefer

Heidi Keefer is a Content Creator for Lifetime Adoption and has over 15 years of experience in the field of adoption. An author of thousands of articles and social media posts over the years, Heidi enjoys finding new ways to educate and captivate Lifetime’s ever-growing list of subscribers.

Heidi has a keen eye for misplaced apostrophes, comma splices, and well-turned sentences, which she has put to good use as a contributor to Lifetime’s award-winning blogs. She has written and published hundreds of adoption articles which explore the various facets of domestic infant adoption today.

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