The short answer is yes — you can enjoy some bacon during your pregnancy. Well-cooked bacon is OK to eat, with a few exceptions.
Here’s how to add some sizzling bacon safely into your diet while pregnant.
There are some safe ways to eat bacon in moderation during your pregnancy. But it’s always a good idea to first understand the risks.
Raw meat often contains harmful pathogens (germs) like bacteria. As with any meat, improper handling or cooking can lead to contamination problems. This can cause food poisoning and other sicknesses.
The risk of contamination is even higher when you’re pregnant because your immune system isn’t as strong and some germs can get into the womb.
Some of the pathogens that can be found in pork and processed meats include:
Infections during pregnancy can cause:
- premature delivery
- infection of the newborn
While some of these bacteria can continue to grow in the refrigerator, fortunately they are all killed through proper cooking. It’s important to make sure bacon is well cooked whether you are pregnant or not!
Nitrates and nitrites
Bacon is a processed meat. This kind of meat is processed or preserved by adding chemicals called nitrates and nitrites. The mix of chemicals gives bacon a bright red color. Without them, it would naturally turn a shade of brown.
Medical research shows that a build-up of nitrates and nitrates in your body during pregnancy from a combination of dietary nitrates and nitrosatable drugs is linked to a higher risk of delivering your baby too early. A preterm birth can sometimes cause health complications for babies.
Limit bacon and other processed and sandwich meats like sausages, ham, and smoked fish in your diet, when you’re pregnant and when you’re not.
Bacon is a kind of red meat, like beef and lamb. All red meat is high in saturated and unsaturated fats. While fat — especially saturated fat — has gotten a bad reputation in recent decades, the most up-to-date studies show that a moderate amount of saturated fat is part of a healthy diet.
Fat is an essential nutrient whether you’re pregnant or not. It helps us absorb and use other nutrients like vitamins. Your body needs all kinds fat from food to develop and nourish your baby.
In fact, a 2016 study showed that sufficient saturated fat intake is linked to increased baby birth weight, decreasing the risk of babies born small for their gestational age.
It’s also worth noting that
While red meat has more saturated fat than unsaturated, you can also find high amounts of saturated fats in plant foods (like nuts or seeds). The difference is that bacon and other red meat have higher amounts of both kinds of fats without the abundant plant nutrients.
Of course, like all foods, it’s important to eat bacon and other red meat in moderation as part of a balanced diet. Those with high cholesterol or heart disease need to be more cautious about adding high saturated fat foods to your diet.
Follow these safe practices for purchasing, handling, and cooking bacon to prevent contamination.
When buying bacon, look for slices with lean pink meat and a small amount of fat. Make sure the expiration date hasn’t already passed.
Take the bacon home and put it in the refrigerator at 40°F (4.4°C) or below as soon as possible. You can store bacon in its packaging in the refrigerator for up to 7 days. You can store it in the freezer for up to a month.
Be sure to keep it away from other ready-to-eat food items, including fruits and vegetables.
Frozen bacon should be thawed out in the refrigerator. Do not defrost bacon on the kitchen counter at room temperature. It’s also safe to cook bacon right away if it was frozen.
Make sure to wash your hands before and after you touch bacon. Also be sure to wash anything that came into contact with raw meat including:
- cutting boards
Use hot soapy water for hands and all surfaces that came into contact with the bacon.
If you’re going to eat bacon, the most important safety factor is how thoroughly you cook it. Pork bacon usually comes raw. It must be cooked before eating.
Bacon can be cooked in a skillet/pan on the stove, in an oven, on an indoor grill, or in the microwave. Make sure to cook bacon at 165°F (73.8°C) before serving. It’s difficult to determine the temperature of a thin piece of bacon, so think the crispier, the better.
Crispy bacon should have reached a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria. The length of time to cook bacon to crispy will vary depending on the thickness of the bacon and the heat used. Don’t sample the meat until it’s fully cooked and crisp.
If it’s purely the smoky taste you are craving, it may be wise to seek a substitute.
Turkey bacon is a popular substitute because it contains less fat and calories than traditional bacon. However, turkey bacon is still considered processed meat.
You can remove the worries of handling raw meat by replacing it with soy-based bacon. Make soy-based bacon at home by marinating strips of tempeh or tofu in spices and then either frying or baking them.
As strange as it sounds, there’s also mushroom bacon. Mushrooms are marinated, roasted, and wood-smoked to resemble and taste like bacon, without all the risks. The best part? You can make it yourself.
If you’re careful, it’s unlikely you’ll be infected with Listeria or another foodborne illness during pregnancy or at any time. But it’s still a good idea to know what to look out for in case something goes wrong.
If you’ve eaten raw or undercooked bacon or any meat, look out for these symptoms:
- upset stomach
- muscle aches
These symptoms often feel like pregnancy symptoms, so it’s best to call your doctor to be sure. People infected with Toxoplasma gondii usually don’t have any symptoms and don’t know they have it.
If you think you’ve accidentally eaten uncooked or undercooked meat during your pregnancy, tell your doctor right away.
You can enjoy bacon safely during pregnancy. Just make sure to cook it thoroughly, until it’s steaming hot. Avoid ordering bacon at a restaurant because you don’t know how well it’s cooked.
If you want to avoid all risks completely, there are meat-free bacon alternatives available, like soy or mushroom bacon. As with any food, moderation is key.
Too much bacon isn’t good for anyone. But during pregnancy, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy a well-cooked serving of bacon every once in a while.