Pregnancy is an interesting time. It’s exciting because of what’s yet to come, but it’s also a time when it can feel like you have a ton of restrictions on activities, behaviors, foods, and even sleeping positions!
Specifically, some food items that may have been your favorite treats before you got pregnant could be off-limits. One common example that surprises many people is deli meat.
So, why is lunch meat like salami a no-no during pregnancy? Is it totally forbidden, or are there ways you can still enjoy your favorite deli meats and satisfy those pregnancy cravings? Let’s take a look.
Deli meats are loosely defined as cooked meats, including those that have been cured or smoked, that are sliced and prepared for sandwiches or light bites.
There are three main types of deli meats:
- whole cut (meat that has been cooked and then sliced)
- sectioned (chunks of meat that have been bonded to create a single piece of meat)
- processed (similar to sectioned meats but can also include meat byproducts)
Salami falls into the sectioned category since it’s made up of portions of meat that are combined with seasonings and cured until they’ve hardened. The meat is often made from pork, beef, or veal.
So, what’s the deal with salami, and deli meats in general? The short answer is that physicians usually caution against consuming cold deli meats when you’re pregnant because there’s always a small risk of contracting foodborne illnesses like salmonellosis, toxoplasmosis, and listeriosis.
This worry exists with:
- prepackaged meats in the dairy aisle
- cut-to-order meats you buy at a deli counter (which can be further contaminated by improperly cleaned slicing equipment or a lack of good handwashing practices)
- a cold-cut sandwich at a restaurant or quick-service venue (also subject to poor employee hygiene or contaminated surfaces)
Listeriosis is usually the most often cited concern when consuming deli meats when you’re pregnant. It’s caused by Listeria monocytogenes, a type of bacteria found in water and soil. It can become a foodborne pathogen if produce is grown in contaminated soil or tainted foods are given to animals in the agricultural chain.
Deli meats, including salami, are one of the more common causes of foodborne pathogens like Listeria.
While listeriosis is relatively rare and most people are resistant to it, it’s considered one of the more serious forms of food poisoning. And when you’re pregnant, you have a weaker immune system. That puts you at a greater risk of contracting the disease, as well as salmonellosis or toxoplasmosis.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), when you’re pregnant, your risk of not only contracting listeriosis but also experiencing some of its more damaging side effects is 10 times greater than that of the general population.
Since you’re more at risk of experiencing the dangerous side effects of a foodborne illness, it’s important to know what those side effects are. In addition to becoming ill, one of the biggest concerns is that foodborne illnesses can cross the placenta and affect your unborn baby.
In addition to experiencing common food poisoning symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration, there’s a concern that the infections can affect your pregnancy and cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or preterm labor.
But in babies born with listeriosis, salmonellosis, or toxoplasmosis, there’s also an increased risk of rare complications, including:
- blood or brain infections
- intellectual delays
- kidney and heart problems
So, does this mean that you should completely avoid salami and deli meats until after you’ve given birth? Not necessarily.
If you can completely avoid deli meats like salami until after delivery, that’s the best choice. But if your salami cravings are too much to ignore, know that the general guidance is that you shouldn’t eat cold or “straight-out-of-the-package” deli meat.
Instead, first zap it in the microwave or cook it in the oven (like you would with salami on a pizza), so that it’s fully heated to the point that it’s steaming. At this stage, the potential for any bacteria or pathogens to remain is very low.
If you ate deli meat, don’t panic. Although your risk of contracting a foodborne illness is higher, you’ll most likely be fine. That said, be on the lookout for symptoms. Many foodborne illnesses have similar symptoms, such as:
- muscle pain
However, there are a few potential key differences between listeriosis and other common foodborne illnesses. Look out for them if you think you may have contracted food poisoning.
In addition to the general symptoms listed above, listeriosis is most closely associated with experiencing:
- trouble maintaining balance
- a stiff neck
While most people will have symptoms a few days after eating contaminated food, some people may not experience any symptoms for as long as 2 months.
Along with general symptoms of nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting, Salmonella can also cause blood in your stool or urine that’s dark or amber-colored. Typically, symptoms begin to appear 12 hours to 3 days after consuming contaminated foods.
Toxoplasmosis is most closely linked to fatigue and swollen lymph nodes along with the general symptoms of body aches, headaches, and fever.
Nevertheless, many people may never experience symptoms, which can make pinpointing when the disease was contracted difficult.
Toxoplasmosis is also linked to cat feces. So if you have cats, avoid personally changing litter boxes — or use gloves if you have to change them and wash your hands thoroughly afterward. Also, ensure that the litter is changed daily to minimize the risk of exposure to the toxoplasma parasite.
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms and suspect that a foodborne pathogen or toxoplasmosis is the cause, contact your OB-GYN immediately to get tested.
If you have any of these illnesses, your physician can work with you to determine a treatment plan that’s effective and safe for you and your baby.
Food cravings are very real when you’re pregnant — and they can be hard to ignore! While it’s best to avoid deli meats like salami during your pregnancy, if you must eat them, make sure they’re thoroughly heated to prevent the risk of contracting a foodborne pathogen.
And if you have any symptoms of infection, contact your OB-GYN right away to ensure the safety of you and your baby.