Can I eat cheese while pregnant?

I think every pregnant woman should be issued a taser and a wheel of brie.

The  taser for people who ask “Haven’t you had that baby yet?!” and the  wheel of brie because, hey, when can you consume about 800 calories in  one sitting and be able to blame any weight on another person?

Listeria  is the big worry. Listeriosis is a severe bacterial infection caused by  Listeria monocytogenes and can be found naturally in soil,  decaying vegetation, and in the intestinal tract of most mammals. Foods  that can be contaminated by it include cole slaw, hot dogs, deli meats,  chicken, and non-pasteurized dairy products.

Center of Disease  Control claims that pregnant women are 20 times more likely to become  infected than non-pregnant healthy adults. When someone ingests  contaminated food, L. monocytogenes gets into the bloodstream and  spreads to other organs, including the placenta. It’s nasty. You don’t  want it and if you read the articles on listeria you will be amazed that  any of us made it here considering how common it is and how deadly it  can be.

Where you lose me is the obsession with soft cheese –  such as brie or camembert, and blue-veined cheeses, like danish blue and  stilton. It seems to be on every no-no list yet the risk applies to the unpasteurized varieties and not the ones that you’re most likely to find at your grocery store. There is some talk around the ripening process, but it’s a pretty perfect storm that could affect anything you consume cold or raw.

Unpasteurized cheeses and the sale and consumption of  raw dairy products are severely restricted in North America. Since 1949,  the US government has forbidden the sale of cheeses made from  unpasteurized milk unless the cheese is aged at least 60 days (the idea  being that after 60 days the acids and salt in the cheese will kill off  any harmful bacteria). So you’re actually hard pressed to find any soft  cheese that isn’t pasteurized these days.

Check the packaging or  ask if the cheese is pasteurized. If it is, take the maternity waistband  for a test drive and roll out the cheese wheel darlin’. Be sure to  taser anyone that comes near it.

search: soft cheese pregnancy, unpasteurized cheeses, listeria pregnancy

Topics:Is It Safe
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  • Fairly recently, there was a huge listeria outbreak with cantaloupe. In the past few months, it was bagged salad. Before that, it was spinach. These are all foods that are practically shoved down our throats as pregnant women because they are so healthy. When was the last time you heard of a listeria outbreak from cheese?

    My point is not that we shouldn’t eat these foods – it’s that eating in general is basically a giant roulette wheel, especially while you’re pregnant. I believe that’s the point that Pregnant Chicken is making as well. Use common sense, of course… eat from places you trust, read the labels, do what you can to prevent what you can… but also accept that you might eat that turkey and brie sandwich and actually get listeria from the lettuce, not the lunch meat or cheese. Stop the fear mongering and try to have a healthy and happy pregnancy.

  • I have read all of the comments and I’m more confused than when I started. I’m 17 weeks and I would love an entire wheel of Brie right now. I think I’ll just make another cup of decaf whiskey and eat potato chips for now.
    But if the craving overcomes me, I will get some Brie.

  • I’ve spent a lot of time researching the whole listeria business, partly because I completely ignored the soft cheese advice in early pregnancy (and then got paranoid), and partly because I was hoping it would be rubbish. In the UK, the advice is rather more explicit: you cannot eat ANY mould-ripened cheese or cheese with a mould rind. This rules out all blue cheeses, and all camemberts and bries, regardless of whether they are pasteurised – which, as others have said, they almost always are. This is because the listeria infection can be introduced during the ripening process, which takes place after pasteurisation.
    As you say, it’s rather silly to single out soft cheese, given that you could theoretically get a listeria infection from anything that is consumed cold and raw – but it’s also the case that the majority of listeria outbreaks have historically been traced back to cheese (and, incidentally, some variety of lettuce a few years back). So although it’s about as likely as getting run over by a truck, I’m playing it as safe as I can.

  • To the comment below… you survived those disease whilst pregnant? Did your fetus also survive?

    I enjoy reading this blog but so much of the medical information is SO terrible. I am a trained microbiologist with a phD in infectious disease microbiology, and these diseases being discussed are serious, serious illnesses. Toxoplasmosis from cat feces, Listeria, these are no joke and can cause miscarriage, still birth, birth defects, you name it. I feel like it is often brushed aside as "people trying to tell me how to live my life snap snap" and it is INFURIATING to those of us that spend our lives researching how to prevent these illnesses.

    For the blog author, I suggest you use the search engine at to search for reputable, peer-reviewed science when discussing the risk factors of these diseases. As a layperson it is easy to say "I don’t see the connection", but as someone who spent 4 years of undergraduate and 5 years of doctoral training studying these connections, trust me they are there. No one is outlawing pregnant women from eating whatever they want, so it is not as though your civil liberties are being infringed upon. I think your job as a source that pregnant women look to for advice is to provide unbiased and scientifically-backed facts. If you don’t have the background to do that, then you should stick to the non-medical advice.

    • I agree with you that the comment above yours is a little reckless – I don’t agree with many comments on the site but if I only left the ones that I agreed with, it would kind of defeat the purpose of a comment section.

      That said, I don’t think you’ll find any place where I dismiss the effects of listeria, toxoplasmosis or any other bacteria for that matter. They are nasty and are not to be treated lightly and I’ve said that on more than one occasion.

      As a microbiologist, I’m actually surprised that you commented on this post. I would have thought that soft cheese witch hunt would be very frustrating to someone who would know that listeria is unlikely to turn up in something pasteurized like cheese – soft or hard – which is why it’s the kind most commonly found in grocery stores and the reason for pasteurization in the first place.

      I think you can also agree that, while these risks are very real, it would be impossible to apply them all to a pregnancy and expect a healthy outcome. I’m not a medically trained doctor – I like to think my use of the terms ‘asshat’ and ‘chew hole’ further illustrate that – but I did worry my way through two pregnancies and wanted to pass along the information I found from a variety of sources – Pub Med being one of them – to other women that may have similar concerns.

      You are more than welcome to voice your opinion here, in fact I welcome it, but I don’t think it’s fair for you to take exception to something I didn’t actually write.

      • I agree with you pregnant chicken! I am also a microbiologist, though I didn’t specifically study Listeria (the person above made it sound like they did?). All I see is you giving people a nice summary of the information you can find through Google. I think it’s a great starting point and heck, I would hope people are here for the humor as much as the awesome factoids.

        In the above commenter’s reality, everyone should be looking up scholarly articles about every decision they make in life, which is just not going to happen. Many peer-reviewed papers are not easy to interpret even if you are not a lay person. Not to mention that peer-reviewed science is hard to access if you have no university library connections.

        As a trained scientist the commenter should know that you can take EVERYTHING that you read in an abstract for what it is, without looking at the data analysis. Just because it is peer-reviewed and published, doesn’t mean it is good science.

        All of that being said (sorry to be ranty, but people who use their academic training to be dicks are the people who really infuriate me), I looked at the statistics for 2009-2011 on the CDC website (~1,600 cases nationally (U.S.) in two years, 230 of which were in pregnant ladies) and decided that I was going to get my turkey sandwich on in the second tri.

        Anywho, I love your site and your weekly pregnancy calendar cracks me up!

  • I had people tell me that cleaning the cat box and eating deli meats is dangerous. That's when I tell them I've survived listeria from hard pasteurized cheese and I think I'll be fine. I've also had dysentery from bottled water and chicken pox after the vaccine and the booster. That bout of chicken pox was almost as bad as the dysentery.

    We could all live in bubbles, but I'm proof that bubble living is boring and doesn't always work. I'll have some Brie tomorrow at my family picnic and smile while people stare. =)

  • Absolutely almost all cheese you're going to find in an American grocery store is pasteurized, EXCEPT do watch out for gourmet-imported-raw-organic local farmer's market and specialty store stuff. You will on rare occasion find unpasteurized cheese there. I am a gournet cheese-aholic snob and figured this out pretty quick. Thanks for spreading the word and hopefully squelching some completely unfounded fear-mongering out there.

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