Can Pregnant Women Eat Feta Cheese?

Team Peanut3 months ago5 min read

When you’re growing a tiny person, you need as much calcium and protein as you can get. Cheese sounds like it’s going to tick all the boxes, but you don’t have to spend long searching for foods to avoid before you find out that the subject of cheese and pregnancy can get pretty complicated. Here, we’re looking at one of the most controversial cheese choices: salty, crumbly feta. Can pregnant women eat feta cheese?

feta cheese

Let’s find out.

In this article: 📝

  • Can you have feta cheese while pregnant?
  • Which other cheeses should you avoid while pregnant?

Can you have feta cheese while pregnant?

Everyone has an opinion on what you put in your body while you’re pregnant. Most of the time, it’s ok to do what feels right for you. But when it comes to food and drink, there are some valid concerns to be aware of.

Is feta cheese safe during pregnancy?

Yep, feta cheese is safe, as long as it is pasteurized.

With feta cheese, the problem is a bacteria called listeria. This can cause listeriosis – a very severe food poisoning. Listeriosis is incredibly rare. There are only about 1,600 cases recorded across the entire U.S. every year, but it can lead to hospitalization and in very rare cases, even death.

Listeria can particularly affect people with lowered immune systems – for example, the very young, the very old, and the immunocompromised. Unfortunately, since your immune system is weaker during pregnancy to stop your body from attacking your little peanut, as a mama-to-be, you also fall into this category.

Most outbreaks of listeria can usually be traced back to deli meats, unwashed produce, or soft unpasteurized cheeses. In certain cases, this can include feta.

But, thanks to the wonders of pasteurization (hats off to Mr. Pasteur), most soft cheeses available in supermarkets and restaurants today — including that delicious feta — have been safely cleared of listeria, which means they don’t have to be completely off your menu.

It’s just a question of being aware.

So, can feta cause miscarriage?

Feta cheese itself will not cause miscarriage. It’s the listeria that could be in unpasteurized feta that poses the problem, rather than the feta cheese itself.

Anyone unlucky enough to contract listeriosis from unpasteurized feta cheese during pregnancy might face some serious risks, one of which is miscarriage. If contracted in the third trimester, other complications can also arise, such as preterm labor, stillbirth, or the infection being passed on to your baby. So listeriosis is definitely worth avoiding.

However, the good news is that most feta is pasteurized, and that means, it is perfectly safe while you’re pregnant.

How is feta pasteurized?

Pasteurization partially sterilizes the milk used to make the cheese, rather than the cheese itself using heat. The milk is heated up to super-high temperatures (162F) for 15 seconds. This destroys any bacteria (including listeria) in the milk and makes it safe to consume.

This applies to any milks, including cows’ milk, sheep’s milk or goats’ milk – if they’re pasteurized, they’re safe for pregnant women to eat or drink.

How do you know when feta cheese is pasteurized?

In the U.S., almost all the products you’ll buy that have feta in them will be made with pasteurized milk, so most feta is safe during pregnancy. For extra reassurance, you can usually check the label, which should tell you if the milk used to make the product was pasteurized.

It can be a little trickier in a restaurant. As a general rule, if a product is imported or is advertised as more “authentic”, there can be a higher chance that the milk will be unpasteurized. But the restaurant staff should be able to tell you. Most restaurants prefer to use pasteurized products, because it also extends the shelf life of fresh ingredients.

If you’re in a foreign country, or a restaurant where you’re not sure and they can’t tell you, It might just be wiser to choose something else.

Which other cheeses should you avoid while pregnant?

Feta is not the only cheese traditionally made with unpasteurized milk. This list is not exhaustive and your doctor will be able to give you more information, but some other common cheeses to steer clear of are:

  • Soft cheese with a white coating like brie or camembert
  • Soft blue cheeses like gorgonzola or roquefort
  • Fresh mozzarella
  • Mexican-style cheeses like queso fresco or queso blanco

Harder cheeses are usually safe because their lower moisture content means that listeria can’t survive in them.

So there you have it: The lowdown on feta cheese while pregnant. Safe if pasteurized, avoid if not.

If you’re looking for inspiration and foods you don’t have to think twice about, check out our list of 14 scrummy foods to eat while pregnant or this great pregnancy meal plan.

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