Grating cheese over steak saladShare on Pinterest
Can Mete/Offset Images

You’ve probably heard a lot of do’s and don’ts when it comes to your pregnancy. Among these, there are several food rules you’ve likely encountered — and some may seem confusing. Case in point: What’s the deal with not being able to eat certain cheeses?

Don’t fret — many (if not most) of your favorite cheeses can be a healthy part of your pregnancy diet. Here’s how to navigate the cheese options at your grocery store.

Pregnant people are 10 times more likely than other adults to develop a serious infection called listeriosis. In fact, pregnant people make up about 1 out of every 6 people who develop this infection. It’s caused by Listeria bacteria that can be found in raw, unpasteurized milk and certain other foods.

As a result, experts recommend that you steer clear from any cheeses or other dairy products that are made using unpasteurized milk. You’ll need to stick to pasteurized varieties instead. Pasteurization is a process that heats food to a certain temperature to kill off harmful bacteria.

Here’s the good news: Most cheeses you’ll find on the shelves in the United States are safe to consume — including many soft cheeses that you may traditionally associate with being unsafe.

Always read labels carefully and look for the word “pasteurized” when choosing cheeses. In general, safe cheeses will be found in the standard dairy cooler area of your grocery store.

Otherwise, it’s a good idea to buy individual blocks or bags of shredded cheese versus having your cheese cut from a wheel (you might risk cross-contamination this way).

Safe varieties include but aren’t limited to:

  • American
  • Colby
  • cheddar
  • Monterey Jack
  • pepper jack
  • Colby Jack
  • mozzarella
  • Muenster
  • provolone
  • Swiss
  • Gouda
  • Parmesan
  • Romano
  • cottage cheese
  • cream cheese
  • ricotta
  • any other cheeses (cow, goat, sheep) made using pasteurized milk

Soft cheeses, bacteria-ripened cheeses, and blue-veined cheeses are the types you may find in the deli or specialty aisles of your grocery store. Depending on the brand or source, they may or may not be pasteurized.

The same thing goes with cheeses you may find at your local farm stand or farmers market.

Potentially unsafe cheeses include:

  • Brie
  • Camembert
  • feta
  • Roquefort
  • queso fresco
  • queso blanco
  • panela

Check labels carefully to see if the cheese in question is made with pasteurized milk. If it’s unclear on the packaging, be sure to ask a store associate before purchasing. And when in doubt, choose something else.

FYI: Federal laws are in place that make it illegal in some states to sell raw milk and other dairy products across state lines. There is one exception to this rule, and it’s for cheeses that are aged longer than 60 days. However, it still may not be worth the risk.

Related: 13 foods to eat while you’re pregnant

Unpasteurized cheeses may harbor E. coli or Listeria, which are harmful strains of bacteria that can make you sick with food poisoning.

Again, you have a higher risk of developing foodborne illnesses when you’re pregnant. While most infections are mild, there are complications that may become life-threatening.

Worst-case scenario, you could develop a blood infection or even meningitis, which is the inflammation of the membranes surrounding your brain. This is rare.

What’s more concerning is that you may pass on the illness to your baby even if you don’t feel sick yourself. Complications for the baby include miscarriage, premature birth, illness, or even infant death from infection.

But my farmer tests their raw milk. Is it safe?

Unfortunately, a negative lab test is not a 100-percent guarantee that the milk used in cheese is safe to consume. It may be negative one day and positive the next, as bacteria can grow quickly. And low levels of contamination don’t always show up on lab testing.

Healthline

If you’ve accidentally eaten cheese that’s in the unsafe category, try not to worry too much. That said, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that around 1,600 people become ill from Listeria bacteria each year. Of them, around 260 die.

Keep an eye on yourself to see if you feel ill. You may notice diarrhea or stomach upset first. In the meantime, contact your doctor if you have questions about your potential exposure. Your doctor can draw your blood to test for infection and give you antibiotics, if necessary.

Be on the lookout if you develop flu-like symptoms (fever, muscle aches, etc.). These symptoms are associated with a more serious infection. It can take between 1 and 4 weeks to develop — and some people haven’t reported symptoms until 70 days after eating contaminated foods.

Related: 11 foods and beverages to avoid during pregnancy

Your favorite pasteurized cheeses can be a part of your pregnancy diet. Just be sure to read labels carefully while shopping and ask questions whenever the cheese’s pasteurization status is unclear.

If you really love unpasteurized cheeses, stay strong. You’ll be back to eating them after your baby is born with much less worry — so start pinning those fancy cheese plate recipes now!