Pasteurized Soft Cheese OK in Pregnancy

FDA: Forget Fear of Feta and Others -- if Made From Pasteurized Milk

Nov. 5, 2003 -- Pregnant women can eat soft cheese after all, the FDA says -- that is, only if it's made from pasteurized milk.

For years, the federal agency has warned pregnant women to eat hard cheeses only. The reason: Risk of food poisoning from Listeria, a common bug that can be deadly for unborn babies. Soft cheeses and precooked meats such as hot dogs and deli meats often harbor the germ.

But now, the FDA says, new data show that Listeria lurks only in unpasteurized feta, Brie, Camembert, queso blanco, queso fresco, blue cheeses, and other soft cheeses. Those made from pasteurized milk are OK.

How can you tell? Read the label. If it doesn't clearly state that the product is made from pasteurized milk -- or if it says the product is made from raw milk -- avoid it.

It's not just pregnant women who now can go on pasteurized feta frenzy. Elderly people and those with impaired immune systems should also watch out for Listeria-laden foods.

Here's how you can lower your risk of Listeria poisoning:

  • Set your refrigerator to 40(F or lower. Listeria only grows at temperatures above 40(F.
  • Do not eat hot dogs or luncheon meats unless they are steaming hot.
  • Do not eat refrigerated pate or meat spreads. Canned or shelf-stable products are safer.
  • Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood, unless it's part of a fully cooked dish. These foods are often found in the refrigerator or deli section of the grocery. They are usually labeled nova-style, lox, kippered, smoked, or jerky.
  • Do not drink raw milk or consume any unpasteurized milk product.

It's also a good idea to eat any precooked or ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible.

Show Sources

SOURCES: FDA news release. "Interpretive Summary: Quantitative Assessment of the Relative Risk to Public Health from Foodborne Listeria monocytogenes Among Selected Categories of Ready-To-Eat Foods," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture, September 2003.
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