Can Pregnant Women Eat Bacon?

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on September 30, 2016Written by Jacquelyn Cafasso

Can pregnant women eat bacon

Overview

The short answer is yes; you can enjoy bacon during your pregnancy. Well-cooked bacon is OK to eat during your pregnancy, with a few exceptions.

Here’s how to incorporate bacon safely into your diet while pregnant.

Risks of eating bacon during pregnancy

bacon

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.

Contamination

Raw meat frequently contains harmful bacteria (pathogens). As with any meat, improper handling or cooking can lead to contamination problems. The risk of contamination is even higher in pregnant women because their immune systems aren’t as strong and some pathogens can enter the womb.

Some of the pathogenic microorganisms that can be found in pork and processed meats include:

  • Salmonella
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Toxoplasmosis gondii
  • Yersinia enterocolitica
  • Listeria monocytogenes

Infections during pregnancy can cause:

  • premature delivery
  • infection of the newborn
  • miscarriage
  • stillbirth

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 if you are pregnant!

Sodium

High-sodium foods can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. With 700 milligrams (mg) of sodium per 3-ounce serving (roughly three slices), bacon is considered a high-sodium food.

According to the U. S. Food and Drug Administration, the daily goal for sodium is less than 2,400 mg.

Fat

Bacon is delicious, partly because it’s loaded with saturated fat. A 3-ounce serving of pork bacon contains over 11 grams of saturated fat. That’s cutting it close to the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 13 grams or less of saturated fat per day. That recommendation is for someone eating 2,000 calories a day.

Food containing saturated fats increases levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) in your blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. A diet high in fat and calories can also lead to obesity.

How to cook and handle bacon properly during pregnancy

bacon

Follow these safe practices for purchasing, handling, and cooking bacon to prevent contamination.

Purchasing bacon

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.

Storing bacon

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 seven 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.

Handling bacon

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 straight 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
  • dishes
  • counters
  • any utensils

Use hot soapy water for hands and all surfaces that came into contact with the bacon.

How to cook bacon during pregnancy

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.

What is bacon?

Bacon is smoked and cured pork meat. Bacon is typically cured with salt and sodium nitrites, which serve several important functions, including:

  • blocking the growth of botulism-causing bacteria
  • preventing spoilage
  • giving the meat its characteristic pink color and flavor
  • helping to prevent the growth of a harmful bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes

Bacon may also contain other additives, including:

  • sugar
  • maple sugar
  • wood smoke
  • spices
  • other flavorings

These additives help reduce the harshness of the salt and improve the taste.

Bacon alternatives during pregnancy

Bacon is high in fat, salt, and calories. 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 replace the meat altogether with soy-based bacon. One strip of soy bacon has little to no saturated fat, depending on the brand. It has only 25 calories. You can also 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.

When to be concerned about a foodborne illness during pregnancy

If you’re careful, it’s unlikely you’ll be infected with Listeria or another foodborne illness during pregnancy. 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
  • fatigue
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • muscle aches

These symptoms often mirror symptoms of pregnancy, so the best course of action is to call your doctor. People infected with Toxoplasma gondii usually don’t have any symptoms and aren’t aware of it.

If you think you’ve eaten uncooked or undercooked meat during your pregnancy, contact your doctor.

Next steps

You can enjoy bacon safely during pregnancy. Just make sure to cook it thoroughly, until it’s steaming hot. You might want to avoid ordering bacon at a restaurant because you can’t control how 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. Limit your intake of bacon to avoid consuming too much fat, calories, and salt.

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 and eggs every once in a while.

Q:

Is it OK for pregnant women to eat processed meats like bacon?

A:

It’s OK to eat bacon if it’s well-cooked and still hot. Cooking destroys any contamination with bacteria. For deli meats that are already cooked (like the kind you buy for sandwiches), processed meats are much worse because they aren’t cooked again. They are also thinly sliced, so they have lots of square inches for bacteria to grow. They need to be kept really cold. 

Debra Rose Wilson, Ph.D., MSN Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
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