Is All Cheese Safe During Pregnancy?

Cheese is a great source of calcium and a healthy snack for pregnant women. However, there are some cheeses that should be approached with caution to avoid potentially harmful bacteria. You may have heard that you should avoid “soft” cheese such as Brie, as well as Feta cheese. Not all of these cheeses are dangerous, you just have to check for one important word: pasteurized.

What Is Pasteurization?

Created by (and named for) chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur in the mid 1800s, the process of pasteurization is intended to kill dangerous bacteria, or pathogens in foods. It is most often used on milk, and involves heating the milk to a temperature high enough to kill the bacteria. The term flash pasteurization simply means the product is heated very quickly and then cooled again. This process is often used on eggs and is believed to improve the taste.

Milk sold in US grocery stores today has been pasteurized. It not only makes the milk safer for consumption, but also extends shelf life. You can also purchase eggs that have been pasteurized, which allows the consumption of them in recipes where they are not cooked to be safe.

Pasteurization And Cheese

The reason that some cheeses have been on the unsafe list for consumption by pregnant women is that they are made with unpasteurized milk. This means that they can contain listeria, a bacteria known to be very harmful or even deadly to a developing fetus. This is the same reason pregnant women are advised against eating deli meats, which can often contain listeria as well.

Soft cheeses like Brie, Camembert, and blue cheeses as well as Feta cheese are often made with unpasteurized milk. The reason for choosing this less-safe option is generally the flavor. These cheeses depend on bacteria for their unique taste, and pasteurized milk can affect the flavor, so many manufacturers continue to make their cheese with raw milk. However, not all of these cheeses are made with unpasteurized milk. Read the label – if it states that pasteurized milk was used, the cheese is safe for consumption during pregnancy.

With more companies producing pasteurized cheeses, Brie, Feta, and the rest of the once-banned soft cheeses can make reappearance in a healthy pregnancy diet.

What About Other Cheeses?

Hard cheeses, such as cheddar and parmesan, are safe to consume during pregnancy. With all cheeses, however, make sure to follow safe handling instructions. Keep the cheese refrigerated, and don’t eat it past the best by date on the package. If you are purchasing your cheese from a deli, try to choose one that is busy and thus has a high turn-around for the cheese on their shelves. Even cheese made with pasteurized milk can be re-contaminated if not handled properly.

Processed cheeses such as American, ricotta, cream cheese and cottage cheese are also considered safe for consumption during pregnancy, but follow the same warnings listed above to ensure food safety. The rule of thumb is to refrigerate and consume promptly.

If you aren’t sure about a cheese, simply don’t eat it. That tantalizing cheese tray at the party may look delicious, but unless you are sure of what is on it and how long it has been sitting out, skip it. It’s not worth your baby’s health.

By taking some precautions, you can make all kinds of cheeses a healthy part of your pregnancy diet, and enjoy some you might have thought were off limits.

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