What foods to avoid

Cheese

Pregnant women are advised not to eat certain types of soft cheese due to the potential presence of harmful bacteria including listeria and E.coli O157. In particular, any soft cheeses made with unpasteurised (raw) milk should always be avoided as these pose a particular risk of food poisoning which could have harmful effects for you and your baby.

There are also certain types of pasteurised soft cheese which should not be eaten during pregnancy due to the potential presence of a type of bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes. This can cause listeriosis, which usually causes flu-like symptoms and diarrhoea, but can lead to serious problems such as miscarriage or stillbirth, or severe illness in a newborn baby.

Soft cheeses to avoid, whether they are pasteurised or unpasteurised, include

  • mould-ripened soft cheeses (with white rinds) such as camembert, brie or chèvre (a type of goat's cheese) and others with similar rinds
  • soft blue-veined cheeses, such as Danish blue, gorgonzola and roquefort.

Thorough cooking should kill any bacteria, so it should be safe to eat these types of cheeses or dishes that contain them (such as baked brie or deep fried camembert) as long as they are cooked. 

Unpasteurised milk

This can contain a type of bacteria, called listeria, that can harm your baby. Pasteurised milk, which is what you find in most shops, is fine – in fact, it is good for you and your baby.

Liver and supplements containing vitamin A

Liver and liver products such as pâté or liver sausage may contain high levels of vitamin A which can be harmful to your baby. For the same reason, don’t take vitamin A supplements. If you need extra, your doctor will prescribe them.

Pâté

Avoid all types of pâté, including vegetable versions. This is because pâté can contain listeria.

Eggs which are not stamped with the British Lion Code mark

Eggs can be used in other foods, such as mayonnaise, tiramisu and cheesecake. If you're not sure, it's fine to ask staff for reassurance that only British Lion Code marked eggs have been used. 

Raw or undercooked meats

Always wash your hands after handling raw meat, and keep it separate from foods that are ready to eat. This is because raw meat contains bacteria that can cause food poisoning.

Make sure you only eat meat that has been well cooked. This is especially important with poultry and products made from minced meat such as sausages and burgers. Make sure these are cooked until they are piping hot all the way through and no pink meat is left.

Some types of fish

You can eat most types of fish when pregnant, but there are a few to avoid. There are others where you should limit the amount you eat.

Avoid eating any shark, swordfish and marlin. This also applies to children and young people under the age of 16.

Have no more than two portions of oily fish a week. Oily fish includes fresh tuna (tinned tuna does not count as oily fish) mackerel, herring, sardines and trout.

Limit the amount of tuna you eat to no more than two fresh tuna steaks a week (weighing about 140g cooked, or 170g raw) or four medium-sized tins of tuna a week (with a drained weight of about 140g per can). This is because of the levels of mercury in this fish. High levels of mercury can harm a baby’s developing nervous system.

Remember that eating fish is good for your health and the development of your baby so you should still aim to include it in your diet.

Raw shellfish

Avoid raw shellfish when you are pregnant. This is because raw shellfish can sometimes contain harmful bacteria and viruses that can cause food poisoning. It’s fine to eat shellfish, including prawns, if they have been properly cooked.

Undercooked ready meals

Avoid eating ready meals that are undercooked. Make sure that you heat them until they are piping hot all the way through.

Ask a health professional if you're not sure about any foods. It's also fine to ask staff for reassurance about foods if you're in a restaurant.

Last Updated: 06 February 2018
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