Foods to avoid during pregnancy

Diet and pregnancy

Most foods are safe to eat during pregnancy. However, there are certain foods and food groups to avoid during pregnancy to prevent any harm to the mother or baby. There are also certain precautions to take while preparing food to ensure it is safe to consume during pregnancy.[1][2]

Certain cheeses

Mould-ripened soft cheeses, which will often have a white rind, should be avoided during pregnancy. This includes cheeses such as brie, camembert, as well as soft goats cheeses such as chevre. Soft blue cheeses, such as Gorgonzola and Roquefort, should also be avoided during pregnancy. If they have been thoroughly cooked, e.g. in a sauce, all of these cheeses are safe to eat, however.

The reason these types of cheese are unsafe to eat during pregnancy is that there is a risk of these cheeses containing harmful bacteria, such as Listeria. Less acidic than hard cheeses, soft cheese contains more moisture, making them more susceptible to the growth of bacteria.

Although infection with bacteria is rare, extra precautions should be taken during pregnancy, because a Listeria infection increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, uterine infection and preterm delivery.[3][4]

Raw or undercooked eggs

During pregnancy, eggs should be cooked until both white and yolk are solid all the way through. Foods made using raw egg, such as mayonnaise or mousse, should also be avoided.[5] This includes non-hen eggs like duck, quail and goose eggs.

Raw or undercooked eggs should be avoided during pregnancy because of the risk of Salmonella.

Pâté

All varieties of pâté, including vegetable pâté, should be avoided during pregnancy. Pâté can potentially contain Listeria bacteria.

Raw or undercooked meat

Raw or undercooked meat should be avoided during pregnancy due to the risk of toxoplasmosis, an infection with bacteria often found in raw meat, as well as sheep, lamb and cat faeces.

Toxoplasmosis is an infection by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, one of the world’s most common parasites. In non-pregnant people, infection is usually harmless and often symptomless. In pregnant people, however, toxoplasmosis can increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, or damage to the organs of the developing baby. In particular, if a pregnant person is affected by toxoplasmosis, this can result in the baby developing eye damage.[6]

All meat, including items such as sausages, burgers and steaks, should be cooked thoroughly, until there is no residual blood or pinkness.

Precautions should also be taken when handling or cooking meat. This includes washing hands thoroughly and washing all surfaces and utensils that have come into contact with the meat just as thoroughly, too.

Cold cured meats

Some cold cured meats, such as chorizo, salami and prosciutto, are not cooked before being cured and fermented. Because of this, they contain a risk of toxoplasmosis and should be avoided.

Freezing the meat for 3-4 days kills the bacteria and makes it safe to eat. If the meat is cooked, it also becomes safe to eat.[7]

Undercooked ready meals

Due to the risk of listeria, all ready meals should be cooked according to the instructions outlined on the packaging. Once cooked, it should also be checked that the ready meal is piping hot, but has cooled enough before eating it, so one won’t burn oneself eating it.

Liver

Liver and all products containing liver should be avoided during pregnancy. Liver contains large amounts of vitamin A, which can be harmful to unborn babies.

Game

Game that has been shot using lead pellets should be avoided during pregnancy. If it is unclear whether the game has been shot using lead pellets, the food supplier should be asked. The better known varieties of game include deer, venison, elk or wild pig, as well as pheasant, grouse and rabbit.

Certain kinds of fish

Most types of fish are safe to eat during pregnancy. However, the consumption of certain types should be limited and others avoided altogether.

  • Shark, swordfish and marlin should be avoided completely as they contain high levels of mercury.
  • Tuna consumption should be limited to two steaks (140 grams cooked) or four medium tins (140 grams drained) per week.
  • Oily fish should be limited to two servings per week because it contains pollutants such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). This is not thought to pose a risk to the developing baby if only two servings per week are consumed.

Shellfish

All types of shellfish, including scallops, mussels and lobster, should always be thoroughly cooked before being eaten by a pregnant person. Raw shellfish contains bacteria that can cause food poisoning.

Sushi

Sushi is safe to eat during pregnancy, as long as it has been frozen before preparation or consumption. The process of freezing kills bacteria that can be contained in raw fish. If eating sushi in a restaurant, inquire as to whether the fish has been frozen before eating it.

Milk and yoghurt

During pregnancy, only pasteurized milk, and yoghurt made with pasteurized milk, should be consumed. Unpasteurized dairy products may carry Listeria bacteria, and consuming them increases a person’s risk of infection.

Caffeine

High caffeine consumption is linked to low birth weights in newborn babies. Although there is no need to cut out caffeine completely, no more than 200mg should be consumed each day. Caffeine is contained in drinks such as coffee and black or green tea, as well as chocolate and some medications.

Examples of the caffeine content of popular beverage choices include:[8]

  • One 350ml mug of instant coffee: 100mg of caffeine
  • One 350ml mug of filter coffee: 140mg of caffeine
  • One 350ml mug of black tea: 75mg of caffeine

Good to know: Herbal tea does not usually contain caffeine, but it is always advisable to check the information on the packet. Some paracetamol products contain caffeine, and so any variety of paracetamol consumed should be checked to ensure that it is caffeine free.

Precautions for preparing and handling food during pregnancy

During pregnancy, extra precautions should be taken when preparing, handling and storing food. These precautions include:[9]

  • Washing all fruit and vegetables thoroughly before eating
  • Washing hands with soap and water before preparing food
  • Washing hands with soap and water after preparing food
  • Washing all surfaces and utensils used to prepare food with soap and water
  • Storing cold foods in the fridge
  • Not storing leftover food at room temperature, but in a fridge once the food has cooled

Foods to avoid during pregnancy FAQs

Q: Can I eat peanuts during pregnancy?
A: It is safe to eat peanuts during pregnancy, so long as you’re not allergic yourself. There is no evidence to suggest that eating peanuts during pregnancy increases the chances of the baby being allergic to peanuts.[10]

Q: What should I do if I eat something risky?
A: If you have eaten something, or fear you may have eaten something, that could be potentially harmful to your baby, contact your doctor or midwife for advice.


  1. NHS Choices. “Foods to avoid in pregnancy.” January 23, 2017. Accessed: 18 January 2018.

  2. Food-borne illnesses during pregnancy.” Canadian Family Physician. April 2010. Accessed: 07 March, 2010.

  3. Patient. “Diet and Lifestyle during Pregnancy.” August 9, 2017. Accessed January 18, 2018.

  4. Listeria and pregnancy.” American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. January 2017. Accessed: 09 March 2018.

  5. Tommy’s. “Foods to avoid in pregnancy.” June 27, 2016. Accessed January 18, 2018.

  6. Medical information on toxoplasmosis of the eye.” Scottish Sensory Centre. Accessed: 09 March 2018.

  7. NHS Choices. “Foods to avoid in pregnancy.” January 23, 2017. Accessed January 18, 2018.

  8. Should I limit caffeine during pregnancy?” NHS Choices. 30 March 2015. Accessed: 07 March 2018.

  9. Pregnancy, birth and baby. “Food preparation and safety.” February, 2016. Accessed January 18, 2018.

  10. Babycentre. “Is it safe to eat peanuts during pregnancy?” January, 2013. Accessed January 18, 2018.