Is cheese the ultimate comfort food? It definitely gets my vote. As a pescatarian, cheese was a major source of protein (and pleasure) during my pregnancy. But not all cheeses are created equal, and soft cheeses, like gooey, delicious brie, require special consideration when you've got a baby on board. Wondering how much brie you can have while pregnant? You're not alone.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), listeria outbreaks are often linked to soft cheeses like brie, camembert, and queso fresco. Listeria is a leading cause of death from foodborne illness in the United States, and pregnant women are 10 times more vulnerable to listeria infection than the rest of the population. Listeria isn't like other bacteria in that refrigeration — and even freezing — won't kill it. Only heat will do, noted Foodsafety.gov. Listeria may lurk in deli meat, refrigerated smoked seafoods, refrigerated meat spreads, and raw sprouts, in addition to unpasteurized dairy.
Romper spoke with registered dietician and fitness expert Anita Mirchandani about such risks, and how best to protect yourself and your baby. She notes, "The issue with listeria is that . . . you don’t actually see the effects it has on the baby until the end of pregnancy, potentially. It can cause complications during delivery, and complications for the newborn." According to the CDC, listeriosis can even result in miscarriage.
However, there are ways to enjoy cheese — and brie, which is one of my personal favorites — while pregnant. The key word, according to Mirchandani, is pasteurized.
"You want to make sure that everything you eat in terms of dairy is pasteurized. . . Pasteurization kills a lot of the bacteria. Hard cheeses are pasteurized and obviously go through a longer process. You’re automatically at less risk if you consume it that way," she says.
The same holds true for eggs. Even if you usually like them runny, pregnancy is the time to cook everything thoroughly, advises Mirchandani. Meat should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit for optimum safety. Pregnancy is the perfect time to invest in a kitchen thermometer — or borrow your grandmother's.
Goat cheese and feta are usually pasteurized when purchased in an American grocery store, but blue cheese is almost always raw. As you stroll through the cheese aisle, be sure to read the labels. Safe cheese will read: MADE WITH PASTEURIZED MILK. Those are the magic words, and if you don't see them, you can't assume any dairy product is pregnancy safe.
Even with pasteurized brie, you don't want to go overboard. "I'm always nervous about the food supply," says Mirchandani. It's important to keep in mind that even after pasteurization, food can be contaminated with listeria in factories through improper washing of hands, surfaces, and tools.
If a soft cheese like brie, or camembert, or feta is your salty, delicious favorite, it's tough to give up once you're expecting. And really, you don't have to. Cheese is a great source of protein, and you can reduce your risk of contracting a foodborne illness by always choosing pasteurized cheeses, buying from sources you trust, and enjoying in moderation — preferably with crackers, green olives, and good friends.