Crawfish boil on tableShare on Pinterest
Alexis Courtney/Offset Images

Despite a few restrictions, if you’re pregnant, you’ll be able to continue eating most of the foods that you enjoyed before you were pregnant. But one food category that tends to cause a lot of confusion is seafood.

Concerns about mercury and the impact it can have on your baby are common reasons why many assume all seafood is unsafe to eat while pregnant. But eating fish and seafood that are low in mercury actually provides important benefits during pregnancy, as long as prepared correctly.

Here’s what you need to know about making a popular shellfish — crawfish — part of your healthy pregnancy diet.

If you love crawfish, rest assured that you don’t need to put the tasty crustacean on the “no-go” list during pregnancy. When fully cooked, crawfish are perfectly safe to eat.

As compared to other seafood, crawfish are considered to be low in mercury with just an average of 0.033 parts per million (ppm) of mercury. Officially, any seafood with 0.1 parts per million or less is considered “low” in mercury by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

So, you can enjoy this shellfish — properly cooked — at any point during your pregnancy. The only limitation will be whether you’re dealing with morning sickness (or have a craving for something else instead).

While crawfish is considered safe for consumption during pregnancy, it needs to be cooked correctly. The main concern centers around accidentally eating undercooked seafood.

Fortunately, crawfish isn’t a form of seafood that’s typically eaten raw. But if it’s undercooked, there’s a risk that you and your baby might be exposed to bacteria, pathogens, or even parasitic diseases.

Additionally, you’ll want to avoid imported crawfish, since the mercury levels are unknown.

When handling and preparing crawfish, you should follow standard food safety guidelines, as outlined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

This means avoiding chances of cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards and utensils when preparing raw crawfish. Or at a minimum, thoroughly wash and sterilize utensils and food prep surfaces that might come into contact with the raw seafood to reduce the risk of contamination.

Likewise, be sure to thoroughly wash your hands, utensils, surfaces, and any appliances used after handling raw crawfish.

Keep in mind that pregnant people have weaker immune systems since their body is now supporting two people. So, bacterial infections that might be less serious when you aren’t pregnant can be problematic and pose a risk to your baby.

Ensure that crawfish has reached an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C). For best results, use a cooking thermometer to confirm that your tasty treats have reached the proper temperatures.

If you’re craving crawfish during your pregnancy, you’ll be happy to know that it’s a nutrient-rich food. Specifically, crawfish is considered a lean protein, low in fat as well as saturated fats. The shellfish is also a great way to get:

  • iron
  • selenium
  • copper
  • niacin
  • trace amounts of vitamin A and C

Just because crawfish is in the “OK to eat” category doesn’t mean you can go wild and eat it all day, every day.

Of course, if you know you’re allergic to shellfish, pregnancy isn’t the time to try to see if you’ve overcome that allergy. But also:

Mind the 12-ounce rule

Although it’s a seafood low in mercury, pregnant people are advised to keep their total seafood consumption to within 12 ounces per week. This usually translates to roughly two to three servings of seafood a week.

Because crawfish are smaller than other crustaceans like lobster and crab, this means that you could easily eat more crawfish and still be within the recommended dietary guidelines.

For example, ready-peeled crawfish in the grocery store usually come in 12-ounce or 1-pound containers. In contrast, whole crawfish that you’d get at a crawfish boil yield less meat once you remove the shell and would require 6 to 7 pounds to reach the 12-ounce guideline.

Crawfish origins

We’ve specifically been referencing guidelines and measurements as it relates to crawfish sourced in the United States. The United States is one of the biggest producers of crawfish, and the industry is closely regulated by both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the FDA. This is why the FDA can confidently label crawfish as lower in mercury.

But imported crawfish aren’t as well regulated and mercury levels are often listed as unknown. So, for your safety and your baby’s safety, it’s best to stick with domestically sourced crawfish.

Wild vs. farmed

As long as you’re picking crawfish that’s caught or raised in the United States, you should be fine in terms of guaranteeing that the seafood is low in mercury.

However, that’s not guaranteed if you’re catching your own crawfish. You’ll want to check for marine advisories to confirm that the water you’re fishing in isn’t polluted or that other contaminants aren’t present.

If you think that you might have eaten unsafe crawfish, you’ll want to look for specific symptoms. The main concern is the risk of food poisoning. Symptoms can appear anywhere from 1 hour to as much as 28 days after consuming contaminated foods and can include:

  • abdominal cramps
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • loss of appetite
  • fever
  • nausea
  • headaches
  • weakness

Because your immune system is weaker during pregnancy, seek medical treatment immediately if you think you might have food poisoning.

Thankfully, crawfish is a food you don’t have to avoid while you’re pregnant. But you do need to ensure that it’s been thoroughly cooked before you enjoy it. And ideally, you should prioritize shellfish that are domestically sourced, so you can know that they’re low in mercury.