Is it Safe to Eat Ceviche While Pregnant?

Most foods are safe to eat while pregnant, but ceviche isn’t one of them. 

Ceviche is a seafood dish made with raw fish or shellfish, spices, and lime or lemon juice. The seafood is marinated in the juice for 10 to 30 minutes, or sometimes up to 24 hours, then served raw. The dish is usually served as an appetizer or a snack.

You should not eat ceviche while pregnant because it is made with uncooked seafood. Raw fish or seafood can cause food poisoning. Pregnant women have a higher chance of getting sick, being sick longer, and having serious side effects. 

Risks of Eating Ceviche While Pregnant

Raw seafood can have parasites or bacteria like Listeria, which can cause an illness called listeriosis. Listeria is one of the most serious types of food poisoning and pregnant women are 10 times more likely to get listeriosis than other people. Symptoms of listeriosis include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Upset stomach
  • Throwing up
  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Loss of balance

Vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration, which happens when the body loses too much water. Listeriosis also can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or early labor. 

You can have symptoms as late as 2 months after you’ve eaten something with Listeria. Lots of pregnant women do not feel sick, but you can still pass the infection to your baby. 

Babies who get listeriosis can have serious blood and brain infections. Listeriosis can cause death in newborns or lifelong health problems, including:

  • Paralysis
  • Seizures
  • Blindness
  • Intellectual disability
  • Brain disorders
  • Kidney problems
  • Heart problems

Benefits of Eating Fish While Pregnant

Ceviche is not safe during pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid all fish and seafood. Fish are an excellent source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Eating enough omega-3 fatty acids while pregnant and during breastfeeding helps your baby’s brain and eyes develop

Fish also are a good source of protein and other vitamins and minerals, including:

  • Vitamin B12 
  • Vitamin D
  • Iron
  • Selenium
  • Zinc
  • Iodine

Pregnant women need more iron and some women don’t get enough, which can lead to iron-deficiency anemia. Eating fish can help keep your iron levels healthy so that your body can make extra blood. 

Continued

While it’s safe to eat fish during pregnancy, there are some fish that you should avoid. Some large, predatory fish have higher amounts of mercury, which can be unsafe during pregnancy. These include:

  • Shark
  • King mackerel
  • Swordfish
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Tilefish

There are many types of seafood that have little or no mercury at all. It is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women to eat different kinds of cooked fish and seafood. The United States Food and Drug Administration has set guidelines for pregnant women on how much fish to eat in a week. These include:

  • Eating up to 6 ounces or 1 serving of some cooked fish
    • Albacore tuna
    • Snapper
    • Carp
    • Bluefish
    • Halibut
  • Eating up to 12 ounces or 2 servings of cooked fish and shellfish
    • Canned tuna
    • Shrimp
    • Oysters
    • Clams
    • Pollock
    • Cod
    • Tilapia
    • Salmon

Be careful with local fish caught by friends and family as they might be higher in mercury or other metals and contaminants. 

Other Safety Factors for Ceviche and Seafood While Pregnant

You may have read or heard somewhere that the lime or lemon juice in ceviche “cooks” the fish and makes it safe. This is not true. The fish in ceviche is uncooked. Raw fish can lead to food poisoning and pregnant women are much more likely to get sick than anyone else.

To prevent getting sick, seafood dishes should be cooked to a temperature of 145°F. This means you should not eat the following foods while pregnant:

  • Ceviche
  • Sushi
  • Sashimi
  • Raw oysters
  • Raw scallops
  • Raw clams

Other good cooking, storing, and serving practices will help keep you safe and prevent sickness. Make sure to:

  • Thaw fish overnight in the fridge
  • Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature of cooked fish
  • Once prepared, keep hot seafood hot and cold seafood cold
  • Refrigerate leftover cooked seafood within 2 hours of serving
  • Throw out sour, rancid, fishy, or ammonia-smelling fish

If you are traveling to other countries while pregnant, make sure to avoid ceviche and any places that serve raw fish. It’s easy for other foods to become contaminated from the fish. Choose hot, cooked foods that are served right away. Avoid buffets where food can sit out and street vendors unless you can watch them cook the food and serve it to you fresh from the grill.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 03, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “FAQs Listeria and Pregnancy.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Food and Water Safety | Traveler’s Health.”

Food and Drug Administration: “Advice About Eating Fish,” “Selecting and Serving Fresh and Frozen Seafood Safely.”

Food Safety: “Foodsafety.gov: People at Risk: Pregnant Women.”

Journal of Food Protection: “Response to the Questions Posed by the Food and Drug Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service Regarding Determination of Cooking Parameters for Safe Seafood for Consumers.”

National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health: “MICROBIAL RISKS AND CANADIAN REGULATIONS FOR SPECIALTY ETHNIC FOODS: CEVICHE.”

Office On Women’s Health: “Staying healthy and safe.”

University of San California San Francisco Health: “Eating Right Before and During Pregnancy.”

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