Eating well-balanced and nutritious meals is especially important during pregnancy to support the health and development of your growing baby. Feta cheese is a popular ingredient in many dishes, but is it safe to eat feta while pregnant?
The answer depends on whether the feta cheese is made from pasteurized or unpasteurized milk. Unpasteurized feta can harbor harmful bacteria like Listeria monocytogenes which can cause serious complications in pregnancy. However, feta made from pasteurized milk is perfectly safe to eat in moderation when pregnant.
This comprehensive guide will cover everything you need to know about eating feta cheese during pregnancy including:
- The risks of eating unpasteurized feta
- How pasteurization kills dangerous bacteria
- The safety of pasteurized feta cheese
- Health benefits of feta
- Nutrition profile of feta
- How much feta pregnant women can eat
- Safe preparation and serving tips
- Feta recipes to try
- Guidance on other soft cheeses in pregnancy
Let’s explore the do’s and don’ts of eating feta cheese while pregnant!
- Unpasteurized feta cheese can contain Listeria monocytogenes bacteria which can be very harmful in pregnancy. Pasteurized feta is safe.
- Pasteurization uses heat to kill any dangerous bacteria in feta cheese made from raw milk.
- Pregnant women should only eat pasteurized feta cheese and avoid unpasteurized soft cheeses.
- In moderation, pasteurized feta offers health benefits like protein, calcium, and probiotics.
- Follow food safety guidelines and fully cook feta to reduce risks. Avoid feta made from unpasteurized milk.
- Ask your doctor about eating feta and other soft cheeses during pregnancy for personalized advice.
Is Feta Cheese Safe to Eat During Pregnancy?
The safety of eating feta cheese while pregnant depends entirely on whether it is made from pasteurized or unpasteurized milk.
Feta cheese made from raw, unpasteurized milk can potentially harbor harmful bacteria like Listeria monocytogenes. This bacteria can sometimes contaminate the milk or cheese during the production process.
Eating feta cheese made from unpasteurized milk during pregnancy is not recommended, as Listeria infection (known as listeriosis) can cause serious pregnancy complications including miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature labor.
However, feta cheese made from pasteurized milk is perfectly safe for pregnant women to eat in moderation. The pasteurization process uses heat to kill any dangerous pathogens like Listeria in the milk, preventing contamination.
To stay on the safe side during pregnancy, only choose feta cheeses clearly labeled as being made from pasteurized milk. You should always avoid soft cheeses made from raw, unpasteurized milk.
Why Pregnant Women Should Avoid Unpasteurized Feta
Here’s a closer look at why it’s so important for pregnant women to avoid eating feta cheese made from unpasteurized milk:
Risk of Listeria – Raw milk and soft cheeses made from it can be contaminated with the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. Listeria can be very harmful during pregnancy.
Easily Spread to Fetus – Listeria bacteria are able to cross the placenta and spread from mother to fetus. An infection puts the unborn baby at risk.
Can Cause Miscarriage – A Listeria infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, and preterm labor. It is a very serious concern.
May Not Cause Symptoms – Pregnant women infected with Listeria may not show any symptoms, but it can still infect the fetus.
More Common in Pregnancy – Pregnant women are 10-20 times more likely to get listeriosis from Listeria compared to the general population.
Fatal for Fetus – Listeria infection is fatal for 20-30% of infected newborns according to the CDC. It poses a significant risk.
For these reasons, pregnant women should always avoid the potential risk of Listeria from unpasteurized feta cheese. Only choose pasteurized feta to eliminate this danger.
The Risk of Listeria During Pregnancy
Listeria monocytogenes is a type of harmful bacteria that can contaminate certain foods and cause an infection called listeriosis. This infection is particularly dangerous during pregnancy.
According to the CDC, pregnant women are 10-20 times more likely to get listeriosis from Listeria infection than the general population. The bacteria are able to easily spread from the mother to the fetus through the placenta.
An estimated 1,600 people get listeriosis each year in the U.S., and it is most common during pregnancy. Tragically, around 20-30% of Listeria infections in newborns end up being fatal.
In pregnant women, a Listeria infection can cause these risks:
- Preterm labor and delivery
- Newborn sepsis and meningitis
Listeria infection poses significant risks for both mother and baby. That’s why it’s critical for pregnant women to avoid foods that may be contaminated, like unpasteurized feta cheese.
Choosing pasteurized feta eliminates the risk of Listeria. But it’s still important to understand the dangers of this harmful bacteria during pregnancy.
What is Listeria Monocytogenes?
Listeria monocytogenes is a rod-shaped bacterium that causes the illness known as listeriosis. Listeria bacteria are found widely in the environment including soil, water, and some animals.
Key facts about Listeria monocytogenes include:
- Gram-positive bacteria that are hardy and resistant to salt and acid.
- Causes the foodborne disease listeriosis which can be serious in pregnant women, newborns, elderly and immunocompromised individuals.
- Primarily transmitted by eating contaminated foods like deli meats, soft cheeses, produce, milk, and processed foods.
- Able to multiply under refrigeration temperatures.
- Can survive food processing environments and contaminate food products.
- Pregnant women are about 20 times more likely to get listeriosis compared to the general population.
- Can spread from mother to fetus even if the mother is asymptomatic.
- Responsible for 20-30% of foodborne listeriosis cases that are fatal.
- Causes fever, muscle aches, nausea, and diarrhea in healthy adults.
- In pregnant women, can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm birth and newborn infections.
Understanding the risks of Listeria monocytogenes during pregnancy is key to prevention. Avoiding unpasteurized feta and other high-risk foods can help pregnant women stay safe.
How to Avoid Listeria Infection
Since Listeria can be very dangerous during pregnancy, it’s important for expectant mothers to know how to avoid infection. Here are some tips:
- Avoid unpasteurized dairy – Only consume pasteurized milk, cheese, yogurt to avoid raw dairy contaminated with Listeria.
- Cook hot dogs and deli meat – Heat these ready-to-eat meats to 165°F to kill any Listeria present.
- Wash produce – Scrub fruits and veggies well before eating to remove any Listeria from soil.
- Avoid cross-contamination – Use separate cutting boards for produce and raw meat to prevent spread of bacteria.
- Heat leftover food – Thoroughly reheat leftovers like casseroles to 165°F. Listeria can grow in refrigerated foods.
- Avoid high-risk foods – Do not eat unpasteurized soft cheeses, pâté, smoked seafood as they are prone to Listeria.
- Practice food safety – Follow safe food handling, cooking, and storage guidelines to prevent Listeria.
- Check labels – Carefully read labels and only purchase pasteurized dairy products or cheeses made from it.
Following these precautions during pregnancy can help protect against potential Listeria contamination and infection.
Signs and Symptoms of Listeria Infection
Listeriosis, the illness caused by Listeria bacteria, can produce a variety of symptoms:
- Muscle aches
- Nausea or vomiting
More serious symptoms may include:
- Neck stiffness
- Loss of balance
In pregnant women, symptoms are usually mild, however, a Listeria infection can lead to:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Muscle aches
Without treatment, consequences for the pregnancy may include:
- Preterm labor
- Newborn meningitis or sepsis
If you experience any potential symptoms of listeriosis during pregnancy, seek medical care promptly. Early treatment with antibiotics can improve outcomes.
Dangers of Listeria During Pregnancy
Listeria infection poses significant risks during pregnancy to both the expectant mother and her unborn baby. Here are some of the biggest dangers:
- Miscarriage – Listeria bacteria can cause miscarriage, most often in the early stages of pregnancy. The risk is highest in the second trimester.
- Stillbirth – Untreated listeriosis can result in stillbirth, which is fetal death after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
- Preterm Birth – Listeria infection commonly leads to early labor and premature delivery, often several weeks early.
- Newborn Infections – Listeria passed from mother to baby can cause sepsis, meningitis, respiratory distress and other dangerous neonatal infections.
- Maternal Death – In rare cases, listeriosis can become life-threatening for pregnant women if it spreads to the bloodstream.
With prompt antibiotic treatment, outcomes can improve. But it’s best to prevent Listeria infection in pregnancy by avoiding high-risk foods like unpasteurized soft cheeses.
Is Pasteurized Feta Safe During Pregnancy?
Unlike unpasteurized feta, feta cheese made from pasteurized milk is perfectly safe for pregnant women to eat in moderation.
The pasteurization process uses high heat to kill any potential Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli and other dangerous bacteria that may be present in the raw milk.
According to the FDA, pasteurization destroys over 99% of harmful pathogens that can contaminate cheese made from unpasteurized milk.
As long as the feta cheese is clearly labeled as being made from pasteurized milk, it poses minimal risks for expectant mothers.
Pasteurized feta still provides healthy nutrients like protein, calcium, phosphorus, and probiotics. In moderation, it can be part of a balanced pregnancy diet.
To be safe, the FDA and CDC recommend pregnant women avoid eating soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk to prevent foodborne illnesses.
But there are no concerns with eating feta or other soft cheeses provided they are made from pasteurized milk. Check labels closely or ask at restaurants.
How Feta Cheese is Made
- Milk from sheep and goats is combined together. Cow’s milk may also be mixed in.
- Rennet is added to help coagulate and curd the milk.
- The curds are cut and then strained from the whey.
- Curds are pressed to remove more whey and formed into blocks.
- Blocks are salted and soaked in brine for preservation.
- Feta blocks cure for weeks to months to develop flavor.
- Cured feta is stored immersed in brine until packaging.
Traditionally, raw or unpasteurized milk is used to make feta cheese. However, today many commercial producers use pasteurized milk instead which is safer.
During pasteurization, milk is heated to high temperatures to kill pathogens before cheesemaking. This prevents any Listeria or other bacteria in raw milk from contaminating the finished cheese.
For pregnant women, only feta made from properly pasteurized milk is recommended. Feta made from unpasteurized or raw milk is risky due to potential Listeria contamination.
Pasteurization is a process that uses heat to eliminate harmful bacteria that may be present in liquids like milk or fruit juice. Here’s how it works to make dairy products safer:
- Milk is heated to a specific temperature and held for a set time.
- Two main methods are high temperature/short time (HTST) or low temperature/long time (LTLT) pasteurization.
- HTST heats milk to 161°F for 15 seconds. LTLT heats to 145°F and holds for 30 minutes.
- Both methods kill over 99% of dangerous pathogens like E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria.
- Pasteurized milk is immediately cooled down to refrigeration temperature.
- The process extends shelf life by slowing spoilage yet maintains nutrition and flavor.
Pasteurization is monitored to ensure milk reaches the proper time and temperature to destroy pathogens. This prevents contaminated milk from being used to make cheese, yogurt or other products.
Buying Pasteurized Feta
When shopping for feta cheese during pregnancy, always check the label for “made from pasteurized milk”. Here are some tips for finding pasteurized feta:
- Look for the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO) seal indicating legal pasteurization.
- Check ingredient lists for “pasteurized milk” or “pasteurized cream”.
- Avoid labels with “raw milk”, “unpasteurized”, or “not pasteurized”.
- Ask at the cheese counter or deli if unsure if feta is pasteurized.
- Purchase from reputable brands and stores more likely to use pasteurized milk.
- Check country standards – some places ban raw milk cheeses.
Sticking to pasteurized feta eliminates risks of foodborne illness from unpasteurized varieties. Be diligent about always checking labels when pregnant.
Health Benefits of Feta Cheese
Along with being a safe choice in pregnancy when pasteurized, feta cheese offers several beneficial nutrients:
- Protein – Feta contains high-quality protein needed for baby’s growth and development. A 1 oz serving has about 4g protein.
- Calcium – Rich in calcium, feta helps promote healthy bones and teeth. 1 oz provides 10% of the recommended daily calcium intake.
- Phosphorus – Important for bone health, cell repair and growth. Feta has around 15% of your phosphorus RDI per ounce.
- Probiotics – Fermented feta can contain probiotics to support gut and immune health.
- Vitamin B12 – Essential for red blood cell formation and neurological function. Feta provides 2% of your daily needs per ounce.
- Riboflavin – Needed for energy production. A serving of feta offers 11% of the RDI for this B vitamin.
When pregnant, enjoy pasteurized feta in moderation as part of a nutritious diet. It provides protein, calcium and other nutrients for you and your developing baby.
Nutrition Facts of Feta Cheese
Here is the full nutrition profile of feta cheese in a 1 ounce (28g) serving:
- Calories: 79
- Fat: 6g
- Saturated fat: 4g
- Carbohydrates: 0g
- Fiber: 0g
- Protein: 4g
- Calcium: 10% DV
- Phosphorus: 15% DV
- Riboflavin: 11% DV
- Vitamin B12: 2% DV
As you can see, feta is a good source of protein, calcium and other important nutrients. Just be mindful of saturated fat intake when pregnant.
Consuming 1-2 ounces of pasteurized feta daily as part of a balanced diet can provide health benefits for expectant mothers. But avoid overdoing high-fat cheeses.
Feta Cheese During Pregnancy
During pregnancy, feta cheese can be part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation. Here are some tips for eating feta safely while pregnant:
- Choose pasteurized feta and always double check the label.
- Limit intake to 1-2 ounces daily as part of a meal or snack.
- Avoid eating feta by itself as a snack. Pair it with other foods.
- Use feta to top salads, vegetables, whole grain pitas or pasta dishes.
- When cooking with feta, heat it to 165°F or until steaming hot.
- Opt for low-sodium feta to limit excess sodium intake.
- Avoid unpasteurized soft cheeses like Brie, queso fresco, blue cheeses.
- Ask restaurants if their feta cheese is made from pasteurized milk.
With some simple precautions, pregnant women can safely enjoy the flavor and nutrition of pasteurized feta cheese.
How Much Feta Can You Eat?
During pregnancy, it’s fine to enjoy 1 to 2 ounces of pasteurized feta cheese daily as part of a healthy diet. This provides about 100-200 calories and 10-20% of your daily calcium needs.
Consuming high amounts of feta or other full-fat cheeses is not recommended. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest limiting saturated fats to less than 10% of daily calories.
Overdoing high-fat cheeses like feta could contribute excess saturated fat and calories. Stick within the 1-2 ounce serving size of feta while pregnant.
- 1 ounce of feta contains about 80 calories and 6g of fat, with 4g saturated fat.
- Limit feta to 2 ounces daily to keep calories, fat and sodium in check.
- Spread out feta servings over the day by adding small amounts to meals and snacks.
- Pair feta with vegetables, whole grains, beans or salads for balanced nutrition.
- Avoid excessive snacking on feta cheese alone due to high sodium content.
- Check labels and select low-sodium feta when available.
- Ask for light feta or reduced-fat varieties to cut down on saturated fat intake.
In moderation, feta can be included as part of an overall healthy prenatal diet. But be mindful of portion sizes as well as sodium and saturated fat amounts.
Safe Ways to Eat Feta While Pregnant
Here are some safe ways for pregnant women to enjoy feta cheese in their diet:
- Read labels carefully – Only purchase feta made from pasteurized milk and avoid any raw milk varieties.
- Heat it – Cooking feta to 165°F or until steaming kills any bacteria. Use it in cooked dishes.
- Combine with other foods – Add feta to salads, grains, vegetables, eggs. Don’t eat plain.
- Avoid cross-contamination – Store opened feta away from raw meats. Use separate cutting boards.
- Check for recalls – Avoid any recalled brands of soft cheese due to possible Listeria.
- Portion control – Stick to 1-2 ounces daily and avoid over-consumption.
- Watch expiration dates – Toss if feta is past expiration to avoid potential bacteria growth.
- Buy from reputable sources – Purchase feta from major brands and grocery stores.
Taking these precautions allows pregnant women to safely add pasteurized feta cheese into their meals and recipes.
Food Safety Tips
Proper food safety is especially important during pregnancy. Here are some tips for handling feta cheese safely:
- Check labels – Only buy feta made from pasteurized milk. Avoid raw/unpasteurized.
- Watch expiration dates – Toss expired feta cheese to avoid potential bacterial growth.
- Wash hands and surfaces – Prevent cross-contamination by washing hands, cutting boards, knives before and after contact with feta.
- Avoid risks – Do not eat feta that is moldy, oddly textured, or smells bad. Discard if signs of spoilage.
- Cook thoroughly – Heat feta dishes like spanakopita to an internal temperature of 165°F.
- Store sealed – Keep opened feta tightly wrapped in original packaging or an airtight container.
- Refrigerate promptly – After opening, refrigerate feta within 2 hours and use within 5-7 days.
Following basic food safety guidelines helps reduce risks when eating feta and other cheeses during pregnancy.
Cooking with Feta Cheese
Here are some tips for safely cooking with feta cheese during pregnancy:
- Use pasteurized feta – Read labels and only cook with varieties made from pasteurized milk.
- Heat it thoroughly – Cook feta dishes like stuffed peppers, egg bakes or phyllo pies to an internal temperature of 165°F.
- Add it at the end – Toss feta into cooked grains, pasta, pizza, vegetables just before serving to retain flavor.
- Stir into hot dishes – Add crumbled feta at the very end when making risottos or soups and stir well until heated through.
- Bake it – Sprinkle feta over casseroles or flatbreads and bake until piping hot.
- Limit raw consumption – Avoid eating uncooked feta on its own. Always pair with other cooked foods or heat through.
Cooking feta to proper temperatures kills any potential bacteria. This allows pregnant women to enjoy tasty feta recipes safely.
Feta Cheese Recipes
Here are some delicious recipe ideas for safely cooking with pasteurized feta cheese during pregnancy:
- Baked Ziti – Toss feta with ziti, marinara sauce and mozzarella then bake until hot and bubbly.
- Veggie Frittata – Add feta, spinach, tomatoes and onions into egg mixture and bake.
- Feta Stuffed Chicken – Fill chicken breasts with a feta, olive and herb stuffing and bake.
- Feta and Tomato Flatbreads – Top naan or pizza crusts with feta, tomatoes, basil and bake.
- Feta Shakshuka – Poach eggs in a skillet of simmering spicy tomato sauce with feta.
- Greek Salad Pita Pockets – Fill pitas with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, olives and heated feta.
- Feta Bruschetta – Top toasted bread with tomato basil relish and warm crumbled feta.
- Feta Orzo Salad – Toss cooked orzo with feta, tomatoes, cucumber, olives, lemon dressing.
Cooking feta to proper temperatures allows pregnant women to enjoy these tasty recipes safely.
What About Other Cheeses?
In addition to feta, pregnant women need to take precautions with other soft cheeses that could carry risks of Listeria contamination when unpasteurized:
Soft cheeses to avoid:
- Queso fresco
- Blue cheese
- Queso blanco
- Hard cheeses (cheddar, swiss, gouda, parmesan)
- Soft cheeses made with pasteurized milk
- Processed cheeses (american)
- Cream cheese