Why Pregnant Women Shouldn’t Eat Deli Meats

Pregnant women need to be aware of what they eat – and how it’s prepared. This is also true of deli meats. Is meat from a deli safe to eat during pregnancy?

Pregnancy is a time when rules change as to what you can eat – and can’t eat. Foods you once devoured without a second thought may be off-limits when you’re eating for two. What if you crave a good deli ham sandwich complete with all the fixings? Is it safe to eat deli meats during pregnancy?

Deli Meats During Pregnancy: Are They Safe?

Most experts recommend pregnant women not eat deli meats, packaged lunch meats, or hot dogs unless they are re-heated to 160 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Deli meats can be contaminated with bacteria called Listera that cause serious illness in pregnant women. This aggressive bacterial infection called listeriosis usually doesn’t cause problems for people with a normal immune system who aren’t carrying a child, but in a pregnant woman it has a mortality rate as high as 25%. Listeriosis is also associated with pregnancy-related complications including miscarriage, early delivery, and stillbirth.

Fortunately, heating food to 160 degrees Fahrenheit or higher inactivates the Listeria bacteria. This means warming deli meats to the point they’re steaming hot before eating them. Other foods pregnant women should avoid because of the risk of listeriosis during pregnancy are soft cheeses, unpasteurized milk and dairy products, raw vegetables, and raw meats.

Listeria and Pregnancy: Why You Shouldn’t Eat Subway Sandwiches When You’re Pregnant

Subway doesn’t reheat their deli meats before serving them on sandwiches, so if you dine there, choose non-luncheon meat items such as roasted chicken, steak, or a meatball sandwich instead of cold deli meats. Subway is aware of this problem, and the employees can usually make recommendations about which items on their menu are safe for pregnant women to eat. The same goes for other deli-style restaurants. It doesn’t take a lot of Listeria bacteria to cause listeriosis, so play it safe and enjoy deli meats only after they’re heated to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Listeria and Pregnancy: The Threat of Listeriosis is Real

Pregnancy is a time when women are susceptible to listeriosis – and it can affect not only their health, but the health of their unborn baby. Don’t risk a bout of listeriosis. Make smart food choices – and prepare them properly.


American Pregnancy Association. “Listeria and Pregnancy”

Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition. 2006.

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