Eating meat safely when you're pregnant

Cooking steak - raw red meat

Meat can play a key role in your pregnancy diet, as it offers you protein, minerals and vitamins which are all good for you and your baby. There are exceptions, however, and several guidelines you should follow when preparing and cooking meat to ensure it's safe for consumption while you're pregnant.

When it comes to eating meat during pregnancy, you must always make sure your food is completely cooked. Don't eat anything raw or underdone – now is not the time for steak tartare or a dodgy barbecue burger – as uncooked meat carries the risk of toxoplasmosis.

Why shouldn’t you eat rare or raw meat during pregnancy?

When you’re pregnant, your immune system doesn’t so much weaken as refocus its efforts on protecting your baby. This means you’re more susceptible to illness and infection, including infection from the toxoplasma parasite that is in some red meat.

You really don’t want to get toxoplasmosis which, in some cases, only starts to affect you weeks after infection. It might leave you with only mild flu-like symptoms but for your baby the effects can be fatal, including miscarriage or stillbirth.

I avoided steak when I was pregnant, as the risk was not worth the 20 minutes of pleasure.

Mince meat can be particularly dangerous if undercooked so make sure you fire it up to at least 165°C (use a thermometer to check).

We cannot stress this enough: make sure your meat is cooked thoroughly.

Can you eat red meat when pregnant?

All that said, it’s a good idea to eat red meat when pregnant due to the amount of iron it contains. But it must be well-done. You might like your steak rare, even bloody, but you will have to forgo it and try the tougher stuff for nine months.

We're not saying this is the time to go vegetarian, just be extra careful when cooking and preparing your meals.

Storing meat safely

When storing meat at home, you should always bear in mind the following guidelines which are especially important when you’re pregnant:

  • Put meat on the bottom shelf of your fridge, in sealed packaging or containers, so that it can’t drip onto anything.
  • Stick to the use-by date. Yes, we know, you can sometimes get away with ignoring these by a day or two but now’s not the time to take chances.
  • Freeze safely. Put meat in the freezer before its use-by date and don’t make the mistake of thinking that it can be frozen indefinitely. Check the advice on the packaging but some meat should be frozen for no longer than one month.

Preparing meat safely

Again, these are steps you should be following already – and you probably are – but they're particularly important during pregnancy:

  • Keep your kitchen clean. Whatever kind of food you’re making and eating, you and your family should take extra care to keep surfaces and utensils clean while you’re pregnant.
  • Don’t wash meat. Some people like to wash meat as they think it makes it cleaner and therefore safer. But that’s not necessarily true and washing meat can actually increase the risks of infection by splashing germs.
  • Wash chopping boards and utensil immediately after use.
  • Avoid touching raw meat. If you have to touch raw meat, wash your hands immediately and thoroughly with soap and water afterwards.
  • Cover marinating meat with clingfilm or foil, don't leave it out in the open.

Can you eat pork, bacon and sausages when pregnant?

Bacon is safe as long as you cook it thoroughly. That’s good as I've been craving bacon and eating it by the truckload! I think I'm probably in danger of giving birth to a piglet.

The same rules apply here as with red meat – you must make sure any pork you eat is cooked thoroughly. If you keep that in mind then you’re free to enjoy a roast, bacon sandwiches, sausage casseroles and anything else that tickles your fancy.

Pork is a good source of protein which will support your baby’s growth. You should be eating 75 to 100g of protein every day during pregnancy.

Can you eat barbecue meat when pregnant?

bbq meat thermometer

In theory, yes, as the same rules about cooking thoroughly apply to meat done on the BBQ. In practice, however, it can be tricky to gauge the safety of barbecued meat and fish – more so than when you're cooking in a kitchen.

Just because, for example, a sausage looks well done on the outside, and has blackened skin, doesn’t mean it’s cooked through on the inside. So you need to check and, if in any doubt, give it a miss.

What cold meat can you eat when pregnant?

I'm so looking forward to a big platter of pâté, goat's cheese and cured meats when I've given birth!

Take care with deli meats such as salami, chorizo and Parma ham. These are often cured and fermented rather than cooked, so they carry a risk of listeriosis and toxoplasmosis. If you want to eat them, make sure they're pre-cooked or cook them yourself at home.

Pre-packed meats, such as ham and corned beef, are safe to eat when you're pregnant.

Can you eat poultry when pregnant?

Poultry is recommended for pregnant women because the iron and zinc it contains is good for you and your baby and it’s easier to digest than red meat. The term “poultry” applies to duck, goose and turkey, but chicken is by far the most popular.

Chicken is rich in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids which does not mean that it’s high in fat. It is actually lower in fat than other meats, so therefore ideal for pregnant women. Chicken is, however, also one of the most common sources of food poisoning.

The experience is miserable, as anyone who has suffered from salmonella poisoning or campylobacter will tell you, and it would be even worse in pregnancy. So make sure you cook chicken thoroughly, with no pink bits, and wash kitchen utensils and hands immediately afterwards.

If you’re ordering chicken while dining out or from a takeaway make sure you’re confident that it’s been cooked thoroughly.

Can you eat venison and game when pregnant?

This all depends on how it was killed (sorry, but you did ask). If it was shot with lead pellets then it’s a no, as that means the meat can contain high levels of lead which is poisonous. Most game you buy in supermarkets is farmed and will not contain any lead, but do ask if you're not sure.

Other meat-based food to avoid during pregnancy

Avoid liver and pâté (even vegetarian kinds) when pregnant. Liver contains high levels of vitamin A which can harm your baby's development. Pate can contain listeria which can cause listeriosis – a serious infection that could cause miscarriage, stillbirth or long-term health problems for your baby.

black pudding on breakfast plate fry up

Can you eat black pudding when pregnant?

You can eat black pudding during pregnancy, as the ingredients – pork fat, pig's blood, cereal, herbs and seasoning – are cooked. To be on the safe side serve it piping hot.