The one food I’m asked about most is deli meat! Women of all ages and at every stage of the reproductive journey have asked me about luncheon meat and its rumored health risks. And if you’re reading this, you are also probably wondering about this popular food. Is it safe to eat during pregnancy? What’s the potential risk? Should you avoid it altogether, or can you eat it in moderation? If your latest pregnancy craving includes “processed” meats like deli meats or beef jerky, don’t panic. Despite all the negative information circulating about deli meat during pregnancy, you don’t need to avoid it altogether (if you don’t want to). Stick around because today, I will clear up the confusion and set the record straight on whether or not deli meat should be avoided during pregnancy.
Is Deli Meat Safe During Pregnancy?
The concern about eating deli meat during pregnancy comes from the potential of contracting a listeriosis infection. However, eating deli meat during pregnancy poses a pretty low risk. Remember, no food is 100% safe or unsafe from a food safety perspective. Listeria affects approximately 1,600 people every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 327.2 million people are living in the United States. This means the prevalence of contracting listeriosis is relatively rare. Additionally, the risk of contracting food borne illness from foods such as pre-bagged lettuce is higher than deli meats. Deli meats can also be heated to reduce risk further. We’ll get into this shortly.
Risks of Eating Deli Meat While Pregnant
Pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are the most susceptible to listeriosis infections. Listeriosis can be very serious during pregnancy. In the worst case scenarios, mom and baby could experience premature birth, miscarriage, stillbirth, or a potentially fatal infection after birth. As mentioned above, listeriosis, while very serious, is also rare.
What Is Listeria?
Listeria monocytogenes, commonly known as listeria, is a disease-causing bacteria in many moist environments. This bacteria can survive and grow through refrigeration and other food preservation measures. As a result, people who eat food contaminated with listeria can develop an infection called listeriosis. According to the FDA, listeria is most commonly transmitted when food is harvested, processed, prepared, packed, transported, or stored in areas contaminated with bacteria. Listeria bacteria can survive refrigeration and freezing. In addition, during pregnancy, the immune system is slightly suppressed, making you more susceptible to illness.
How To Eat Deli Meat During Pregnancy Safely
Heat deli meat to 165 ℉ or until steaming hot.
If giving up deli meat during your pregnancy sounds unbearable, I have good news. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), deli meats are safe during pregnancy if heated to a minimum internal temperature of 165 ℉ or until “steaming hot” just before serving. Most harmful bacteria are killed at this temperature, which is considered a safe option.
Buy high-quality deli meat from a trusted source.
Processed meats, like deli meats, require minimal prep, are more portable, and are a common pregnancy craving. Deli meats can fit into a well-rounded, nutritious diet for pregnancy. I recommend choosing high-quality deli meats whenever possible. By high-quality, I mean organic, grass-fed, nitrate, and nitrite-free meats when your budget allows. Like this kind! With all that said, I’m often asked what if I want a cold sandwich? As noted above, the risk of contracting listeriosis is relatively rare. Whether to heat, eat cold, or avoid deli meat during pregnancy is a personal decision what you feel most comfortable with matters. Consider your personal situation, and the pros and cons of you eating deli meat while pregnant.
Avoid, heat, or eat cold – at the end of the day, it’s up to YOU to decide whether or not you want to include deli meat in your pregnancy diet.
The final say on whether or not to consume deli meat during pregnancy is up to you. We’re here to provide you with evidence and data. You can then take this information to make your own informed decision that you’re comfortable with. I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of listeriosis during pregnancy. However, I don’t want you to panic or feel you must avoid all your favorite foods. The risk of contracting listeriosis from deli meats is overall rare but, of course, not zero. Heating deli meat greatly reduces any risk even more. I encourage you to consider the research I’ve shared here and follow your gut. Your health, both physical and mental, and the health of your growing baby are most important.
I also encourage you to familiarize yourself with food safety guidelines during pregnancy to help you stay food safe. To learn more about nourishing foods to include (and foods to avoid) in your diet during pregnancy, check out The Prenatal Nutrition Library (TPNL). We cover all the details on deli meats during pregnancy, soft cheese, lunch ideas, and hundreds of other topics. TPNL is your one-stop hub for ALL things prenatal nutrition that provides evidence-based, clear recommendations to ensure you have a feel-good pregnancy!