Is cheese safe during pregnancy? Many pregnant women ask this question all of the time, and the reason for it is that some are safe and some are not. So how do you know?
The issue is whether or not the cheese has been pasteurized. During pregnancy you must make sure all the cheese you are consuming is pasteurized, this will ensure that all bacteria is killed so you are not exposed to the dangerous listeria. The same goes for other dairy products (so don’t drink raw milk or yogurt!).
Most books and publications will tell you to avoid all the soft cheeses: brie, camembert, gorgonzola, blue cheeses, feta, goat, and the soft mexican cheese. However, my experience shows that this is not really accurate.
So how do you know if the cheese you are eating is pasteurized? Here are some tips:
When Food Shopping:
Most mainstream domestic cheeses are pasteurized, when you are shopping at your supermarket make sure to read the label, the ingredient list will say “pasteurized milk.” If it does not say pasteurized on the label skip it!
If you go to a cheese shop where the cheeses are not packaged, make sure you trust the people behind the counter because they will be the ones to tell you which ones are and which ones aren’t. From my experience, living in NYC, most cheeses are pasteurized. At Whole Foods the cheese guy could only show me a handful that were unpasteurized (and they weren’t the bries, fetas or goats), and the other hundreds of cheeses were all pasteurized. If the person helping you isn’t sure – then I would skip it and buy the prepackaged cheese just so you know 100%.
My dad is a huge cheese lover, and often buys his cheeses from Murray’s Cheese Shop; he’s been nice about keeping the labels for me or having them print out information about the cheese so that I know if he’ll be serving them when I’m over. Basically, every cheese he has brought home has been unpasteurized! But then again, my dad is buying some of the very obscure not mainstream types. So again – you never know.
When Dining Out:
Ask, ask, and ask again. Since I’ve been pregnant, I’ve only encountered three dining experiences that have had unpasteurized cheeses on the menu (and we dine out quite often!). These were our special occasion dinners: Jean Georges, Eleven Madison Park, and Convivio (where they told me every cheese they serve is unpasteurized!). All of which were fantastic dinners, but the waiter had to modify some menu items for me.
I have been shocked to find that every goat cheese (one of my favorites) I have asked about has been pasteurized! This was a huge shock to me because I was expecting to give up goat cheese during my pregnancy. My first experience was at a restaurant in Denver for FNCE (nutrition conference). There was a beet and goat cheese salad (pictured above) on the menu that sounded fantastic, so I asked the waitress if it was pasteurized and she said that all of their cheeses were pasteurized. For some reason I didn’t believe her so I asked several more people and they all confirmed that it was indeed pasteurized. From then on I realized that I could probably eat more cheese than I originally though.
Most run of the mill Italian restaurants use nothing but pasteurized cheeses, however I still ask. I have also had feta cheese in my omelets, and I always ask to confirm. For me, I believe it’s better to be safe than sorry. But I do love cheese and if it’s safe I’m in!
This is one circumstance that you have to be very careful around. If there is a cheese platter, you really have no clue if it’s pasteurized or not. If you are close with the hosts, you can ask if they know or have saved any wrappers. If not, you probably want to steer clear.
For me, if I don’t know I stay away. But that’s my personal opinion. If it’s a party there are probably lots of other food options and you won’t go hungry.
What has been your experience with unpasteurized cheeses?