Can Pregnant Women Eat Feta Cheese?

There is concern over eating cheese while pregnant due to a harmful bacteria known as listeria (listeriosis). Some varieties of cheese and unpasteurized dairy have been known to be contaminated with this bacteria.  It can also be found in  foods like uncooked meats, uncooked vegetables, lunch meats, and hot dogs. It can be killed by adequately heating foods that may contain the bacteria or through pasteurization of dairy.

The symptoms of listeria may include muscle aches, fever, vomiting, flu-like symptoms, diarrhea, stiff neck, confusion, and balance problems. It can be detected through a blood test and typically is not treated because it naturally works its way out of the body. However, pregnant women may be given antibiotics to try to prevent the baby from getting infected [source].

In terms of cheese or dairy, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, advises pregnant women to avoid the following:

  • Unpasteurized (raw) milk and dairy products
  • Soft cheese made with unpasteurized milk, such as queso fresco, Feta, Brie, Camembert

Pregnant women should avoid eating feta cheese if it is unpasteurized. It is important to read the product label to verify it has been made with pasteurized milk to ensure it is safe for eating. Most cheese packages will indicate if the product is pasteurized or unpasteurized. The majority of feta cheese that you find in U.S. grocery stores will be pasteurized and acceptable to eat. However, it is advise to never assume a cheese is pasteurized if you are pregnant.

Be cautious of feta cheese you buy at a place like a farmer’s market. It is not uncommon for these cheeses to be made from unpasteurized milk. If the packaging does not clearly indicate that the product has been pasteurized, it best to err on the side of caution and simply not eat it. Listeria can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or chronic health problems for the soon to be born child. Obviously, this something that all mothers should seek to avoid.

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