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Can I Eat Cheese if I’m Pregnant?

I’m pregnant and wondering what the deal is with eating cheese—some people say to avoid it altogether, others say it depends on the cheese. Can you please clarify?
Cheese is an excellent source of vitamins, nutrients, calcium, and protein—all things that a pregnant woman needs in her diet. It’s a megafood that feeds growing bodies, inside and outside the womb. That said, most doctors and midwives recommend that pregnant women avoid eating any raw-milk cheeses because of the risk of listeriosis, a type of food poisoning that is very rare but can be seriously harmful to a fetus. Soft, high-moisture cheeses made from raw milk are particularly off-limits since the offending bacteria, Listeria, and particularly Listeria monocytogenes, will multiply faster in a moist environment. The high heat of pasteurization kills the bacteria, which is why pasteurized cheeses—soft or hard—are the most prudent option for pregnant women.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, “Listeria is a type of bacteria found in soil, water, and sometimes on plants. [It] is all around our environment … most infections in people are from eating contaminated foods.” I’d like to emphasize that the risk of contracting listeriosis from cheese is extremely low, thanks to the care that regulated cheesemakers must take to keep their creameries extremely hygienic. It’s worth noting that statistically, the food that carries the greatest risk of listeriosis is not cheese but deli meats. Studies by the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) cite deli meats (and uncooked hot dogs) as the most common source of Listeria food poisoning.

So go ahead and enjoy the multitude of amazing cheeses made from pasteurized milk (check the label to be sure or ask your cheesemonger). But I’d watch out for those wieners!

Juliana Uruburu

Juliana Uruburu is the cheese program director at the Pasta Shop markets, with locations in Berkeley and Oakland, California.