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Cold cuts (lunch meats) and pregnancy
by Jennifer J. Francis, MPH, RD/LD

Jennifer FrancisQ. I know that soft cheeses are a no-no when pregnant, but I also have heard something about deli meats as well? Is it true that we should stay away from lunch meats (ah, my beloved turkey!) as well???

A. Alas, it is true. The USDA warns that pregnant women should NOT eat ANY kind of lunchmeat unless it is warmed to steaming hot. I didn't believe this when I first read it. I thought it meant just bologna, and processed, chopped up meats, not nice lean, whole turkey breast!! I went to the USDA website. I read it there, but still didn't believe it. I CALLED the USDA, and I got a person on the line who said that pregnant women should not have ANY type of lunchmeat. For some reason, I felt that this person did not really understand my question, or was not very confident about her answer, so I CALLED AGAIN! This time, I spoke with a very knowledgeable representative who explained to me that ALL deli meats, including turkey, roast beef and ham can possibly be contaminated with Lysteria monocytogenes bacteria, which can cause premature labor or stillbirth.

Of course, most of the pregnant women we meet eat lunchmeat all through their pregnancies, and nothing bad ever happens to them. Unfortunately, that does not guarantee that lunchmeat is safe. The *risk* is very small, but the *consequences* are very great. The estimate is about 2,500 people a year become seriously sick from this bacteria, and about 5 people a year die from it. Pregnant women are 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get sick from it.

Other foods you should stay away from are soft cheeses, like you mentioned, smoked seafood (unless heated) pates, other processed meats like hot dogs or kielbasa (unless heated to steaming hot every time, even when eating leftovers that have already been cooked) or unpasteurized milk. Also soft cooked eggs can carry bacteria. The whites and yolks of eggs should be firm, or else it is not certain that harmful bacteria have been destroyed.

Sorry, I wish I could tell you that it is okay; I hate telling people *not* to eat certain foods, but this is one you really have to be careful with.

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