Tasty, high in protein and a great snack or sandwich filler, there’s good reason why ham is one of the most popular types of food out there.
But can you eat ham while you’re pregnant, or is best avoided when you’re expecting?
The short answer is pregnant women are advised to avoid deli or processed meats, and any meat that has been cured or smoked, because they may contain listeria or salmonella bacteria, or toxoplasma parasites.
But what if you cook the meat before serving, does it then become safe to eat?
And does the type of ham, or even where you bought it from, make a difference?
Let’s find out.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Ham?
If you are craving ham while pregnant, the first thing to be aware of is that not all ham is equal, and not all cooking processes are the same.
The general rule when determining if ham, or any other meat for that matter, is safe or not, it to ask yourself whether the meat has been cooked.
Many cold, deli meats, such as salami, Parma ham, prosciutto, chorizo and pepperoni, are not cooked, they are just cured and fermented.
And because they are not cooked, they should be avoided by pregnant women, because there is a risk they contain toxoplasmosis-causing parasites.
You might now be thinking something like I’ve been eating these types of hams all my life, what’s the big deal?
To a healthy adult, most types of food poisoning are relatively mild and only take a day or two to recover from.
So the side effects of getting toxoplasma or becoming ill from some other bacteria like listeria which originate from parasites found in raw and undercooked meat are typically not serious.
But – and here’s the key thing – these illnesses can be harmful to an unborn baby, and in some cases they could cause premature birth, miscarriage and stillbirth.
It is for this reason that experts including the FDA, recommend that the internal temperature of meat consumed by pregnant women should reach 160° F (71° C).
You are also at a higher risk of contracting listeria when pregnant – 20 times more likely to be precise – so for this reason you should avoid eating uncooked ham during your pregnancy.
Beware That Not All Ham Is Cooked
Just as there are different types of ham, there are also different types of preparing ham.
Some of the most common ways to prepare ham include baked in the oven, cured, dried and smoked (hot or cold), and given each process differs, it’s no wonder women can easily become confused as to what is and is not pregnancy safe.
If a ham is not cooked, but it is instead cured, smoked or air-dried, then it’s best avoided by pregnant women.
This is also why beef jerky, which is dried rather than cooked, is also best avoided during pregnancy.
Ham that is cooked thoroughly, however, is typically safe to eat while you’re pregnant.
This is because cooking meat until it’s piping and above 160 degrees Fahrenheit will kill off the harmful bacteria that might be found in meat that hasn’t been cooked thoroughly.
This is why pregnant women can still eat steak, provided it’s served well-done.
Can You Eat Parma Ham or Prosciutto While Pregnant?
If you want to err on the side of caution, then it’s best not to eat Parma ham or prosciutto during your pregnancy.
The exception is if the ham has been cooked until it’s piping hot, and eaten right away.
You might be asking yourself why would you want to cook these delicious types of meats when they’re usually best enjoyed cold?
The answer is these types of hams is that they go perfectly on pizza or in a pasta, so that’s one simply way to get your Parma ham or prosciutto fix without taking any unnecessary risks.
Can You Eat Salami Ham While Pregnant?
Again, if you prefer to take no chances then it’s advisable not to eat salami while pregnant, except if that salami has been thoroughly cooked until it’s piping hot, and eaten right away.
And just as above, if find yourself longing for some salami then you don’t need us to tell you it’s a delicious pizza topping and can be found on most pizza menus!
What Ham Is Safe To Eat When Pregnant?
Pregnancy experts and government bodies around the world agree that ham which has been cooked to the right temperature and is served straight away is safe to eat.
But the advice around cold cured meats and deli meats does vary from country to country, and even from among experts within the US.
In the UK, the NHS state that cold, pre-packed meats such as ham and corned beef are safe for pregnant women, but you should cold cured meats, such as salami, pepperoni, chorizo and prosciutto unless they are thoroughly cooked.
The American Pregnancy Association on the other hand advise against eating all deli meats when pregnant unless the meat is reheated until it’s steaming hot.
One thing to bear in mind is that deli meats in the traditional sense of the word, are typically handled more than other foods, and this may lead to them becoming contaminated.
In addition, it’s difficult to determine the hygiene of your local deli and how well they clean those hard to reach places in the equipment used for cutting the meat – places which are the ideal environment for bacteria and parasites to live in.
Cooked, pre-packaged ham has a lower risk than the ham bought from the deli counter, but if you want to be on the safe side, you might be most comfortable only eating ham which has been thoroughly cooked or reheated until it’s piping hot.
I Ate Ham or Prosciutto While Pregnant – Should I Worry?
If you’ve recently eaten some (cold) ham or prosciutto and you’re expecting, then it’s understandable that you might be worried.
The good news according to the American Pregnancy Association is that there’s no need to panic if you are pregnant and have been eating deli meats, because the probabilities are in your favor that nothing has happened.
This is because approximately 2,500 individuals will become infected with Listeria annually – or put another way – there is only one case per 132,000 people in the USA each year.
When it comes to deli meats it is important you know that the likelihood of being exposed to Listeria is low.
However, it’s probably not something you’ll want to make a habit of, because as mentioned above it can be serious if your developing baby is exposed to listeria.
Just keep an eye out for the symptoms of listeriosis – these may show up 2-30 days after exposure and include mild flu-like symptoms, headaches, muscle aches, fever, nausea, and vomiting – and contact your midwife or healthcare provider if you’re concerned.
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