Pregnant Women & Immunocompromised People Should Avoid Soft Cheeses!

Q. Why have I been told not to eat soft cheeses during pregnancy?

A. Monica Salas, a dietetic intern at the Frances Stern Nutrition Center, answers: “Pregnant women must be cautious of exposure to disease-causing bacteria. Soft cheeses like brie, camembert, feta, gorgonzola, Roquefort, queso blanco, and queso fresco could contain Listeria bacteria, especially if they are made with unpasteurized (raw) milk. Listeria can cause an infection known as listeriosis which, although rare, can have severe consequences for both mother and baby.

“The high water content of soft cheeses makes them more likely to harbor Listeria than hard cheeses. Soft cheeses made with unpasteurized (raw) milk are estimated to be 50 to 160 times more likely to cause Listeria infection than those made with pasteurized milk. If a cheese is made with raw milk, or it does not clearly state that the product is made with pasteurized milk, it is best to avoid it during pregnancy. Hard cheeses are generally safe to eat.

“In addition to pregnant women, anyone with a compromised immune system should avoid soft cheeses (especially unpasteurized products) as well.”

The elderly and people with weakened immune systems due to underlying medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, liver or kidney disease, alcoholism, and HIV or AIDS are more likely to get a Listeria infection. Treatments that make it more difficult for the body to fight off illness, such as steroids and chemotherapy, also can increase the chance of Listeria infection.

𝗛𝗲𝗿𝗲’𝘀 𝗮 𝗹𝗶𝘀𝘁 𝗼𝗳 𝗮𝗱𝗱𝗶𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝗮𝗹 𝘀𝗮𝗳𝗲𝘁𝘆 𝗺𝗲𝗮𝘀𝘂𝗿𝗲𝘀 𝘁𝗼 𝗮𝘃𝗼𝗶𝗱 𝗹𝗶𝘀𝘁𝗲𝗿𝗶𝗮:

🧼 Wash your hands the right way – for 20 seconds with soap and running water

🌡 Use a thermometer to make sure your refrigerator is 40°F or lower and your freezer is 0°F or lower

🥩 Keep raw meat away from fresh produce and other ready-to-eat food, to avoid contamination

❄️ Thaw or marinate foods in the refrigerator, never on the counter or in the kitchen sink

🍎 Wash fruits and vegetables (even if you plan to peel them), but DO NOT wash meat, poultry or eggs!

🔪 Use separate cutting boards for raw produce and for raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs

🌡 Use a food thermometer to be sure food is cooked to its proper temperature

❄️ Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours in shallow covered containers and use within 3-4 days

🗑 Know when to throw food out!

Sources: Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Tufts Nutrition & Health Letter, Nov. 2019

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