Many pregnant women think they need to give up lunch meat—but that’s not entirely true.
You might know that cold cuts and lunch meats in pregnancy can pose the risk of listeriosis. But what makes a pregnant person suspectable? And how can they still enjoy a sandwich?
In this article, you’ll learn about lunch meat and pregnancy: The risks and hacks to avoid the risks.
Lunch Meat and Pregnancy: Is It Safe?
Lunch meat is so common that you may not even consider that it could be a potential risk during pregnancy. However, this food can contain bacteria that can pose a bigger risk during pregnancy.
In short, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says to avoid deli meat during pregnancy. Deli meat may contain listeria, a bacteria that mostly affects those with weakened immune systems. During pregnancy, the threat is more serious and the potential consequences are larger.
Although you can reheat meat to kill any potential bacteria (tips on this below), you shouldn’t eat it straight out of the fridge.
What counts as “lunch meat”? The list for lunch meat and pregnancy precautions includes:
- Cold cuts
- Prepackaged meat from the grocery store
- Freshly sliced meat from the deli counter
- Premade or restaurant sandwiches containing cold cuts
- Consider other forms of packaged meat, like hot dogs and pates
- Pates or meat spreads
Listeriosis and Lunch Meat
Listeriosis is a serious infection you get from eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Sometimes, the environment foods are grown or processed allows the bacterium to thrive. For example, conditions in a plant like refrigeration temperatures, low pH, or high salt concentration can encourage Listeria.
Although anyone can theoretically get sick with listeriosis, it’s rare for a healthy person with a normal immune system to become sick from the bacteria. Although they’ll get the infection, their bodies will typically fight it off and they won’t notice symptoms.
On the other hand, those with weakened immune systems like newborns, those over 65, and pregnant people are at risk.
According to the CDC, about 1,600 people get listeriosis each year. Of those, about 260 die.
Listeriosis is more common in some foods, like soft cheeses, sprouts, unpasteurized milk and deli meat. That’s why all these foods should be avoided or eaten with precautions while you’re expecting.
In particular, hot dogs, cold cuts, and lunch meats are a main concern. In the 1990s, listeria outbreaks were linked primarily to deli meats and hot dogs.
The USDA announced new rules in 2003 to help minimize the bacteria in deli meats. For example, companies needed to start testing their plant equipment for listeria. They were also encouraged to use technology to kill bacteria or prevent its growth. Today, the cases of listeria have nearly been cut in half. In 2003, the estimated yearly deaths from listeria were 499—compared to the current 260 yearly deaths.
Although listeria infections are less common today, they still happen. In 2021, an outbreak was linked to Italian-style deli meats, like salami, mortadella and prosciutto. They determined the source was both prepackaged and sliced meats from the deli counter. The outbreak resulted in 12 hospitalizations and 1 death.
The Increased Risk of Pregnancy and Lunch Meat
It’s rare for listeriosis to affect a healthy person with a normal immune system. However, pregnant people should take precautions with certain foods. While a healthy, non-pregnant person can usually fight off the serious infection, it might be too much for an immune system to handle during pregnancy. Pregnant people are 10 times more likely to get listeriosis compared to non-pregnant, healthy people.
Listeriosis symptoms during pregnancy include:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Muscle aches
How soon you experience symptoms varies widely. People typically report symptoms starting at 1 to 4 weeks of eating the contaminated food. However, symptoms could show as early as the same day or as late as 70 days.
Being infected with listeriosis during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth and premature delivery. The newborn may also get the life-threatening infection.
If your doctor suspects listeria, they’ll recommend a bacterial culture. If confirmed, they’ll prescribe you antibiotics to kill the infection.
Reheating Lunch Meat In Pregnancy
Although lunch meat and pregnancy pose risks, you can simply reheat your cold cuts and eat them as usual.
Whichever reheating method you use, make sure your cold cuts reach an internal temperature of 165°F before eating. As a general rule, meats should be steaming hot. To play it safe, use a thermometer to be sure. You can buy affordable instant-read thermometers that will come in handy throughout your pregnancy for this purpose. To create a thicker layer for the thermometer to read, fold the cold cuts in half as opposed to lying flat.
Keep in mind that your cold cuts should reach 165°F just before serving. If you reheat your lunch meat and let it sit before eating, bacteria has another chance to grow and possibly cause an infection.
Heat in Microwave
The easiest and quickest way to reheat your lunch meat in pregnancy is to use a microwave. This makes it easy to assemble your sandwich at work or anywhere with a microwave. Model Chrissy Teigen shared this hack on her Instagram stories.
She told her followers her pregnancy craving was ham and cheddar Lunchables. But to keep it safe, “I heat up each piece of meat so I don’t get listeria, because you’re not supposed to have deli meat pregnant.”
Here’s how to safely reheat your deli meat in a microwave:
- Place cold cuts onto a plate
- Cover cold cuts with paper towel
- Heat for a few minutes, at 30-second intervals, ideally at half microwave power or a lower setting
- Check the temperature between intervals until it reaches 165°F
Heat in Pan
You can also reheat your cold cuts in a pan.
- Spray your pan with cooking spray or a small amount of oil so the meat doesn’t stick
- Heat the pan on medium or medium-high
- Place cold cuts into the pan and cover
- Cook for a few minutes, until meat reaches 165°F
Heat in Oven
Another method of reheating deli-meats is to use the oven.
- Preheat your oven to 400°F.
- Tear a piece of aluminum foil. P
- Place your cold cuts in the center of the foil
- Fold all sides to create a package for the cold cuts
- Let cook for about 10 minutes or until meat reaches 165°F
Precautions for Lunch Meat And Pregnancy
When it comes to lunch meat and pregnancy, there’s other precautions you should take besides reheating.
- Juices that leak out of the meat package can also pose a risk. Don’t let this get on other foods, the fridge shelf, counter, etc. If contamination on a surface occurs, wash it thoroughly.
- Wash hands.After you put your cold cuts on a plate and into the microwave, wash your hands. If the meat has listeria and you get it on your hands, you can become sick.
- Storage times.Unopened meat packages shouldn’t go longer than 2 weeks in the fridge, according to the CDC. Opened packages or sliced deli meat shouldn’t last longer than 3-5 days.
- Choose shelf meat spreads over refrigerated ones.The CDC recommends avoiding refrigerated meat spreads and pates during pregnancy. For a safer choice, choose a meat spread that doesn’t need refrigeration.
What Happens If I Eat Unheated Lunch Meat in Pregnancy?
If you eat unheated lunch meat in pregnancy, you might be worried, but you’ll most likely be fine. Although Listeriosis is a serious infection, it’s rare. The American Pregnancy Association says it’s very unlikely you’ll experience a problem with deli meat.
Still, you should keep an eye out for symptoms if you’ve eaten unheated cold cuts. Since people have reported symptoms up to 70 days after, report any concerns in the coming months to your doctor.
Recipes Using Pregnancy Lunch Meat
Once you know how to safely heat up deli meat, you have more pregnancy lunch options. As long as you heat the meat right before assembling and eating, any meal containing cold cuts is safe.
Consider these pregnancy lunch ideas using cold cuts:
- Copycat Subway Cold Cut Combo
- Salad with Cold Cuts
- Dip with Cold Cuts, Vegetables and Breadsticks
- Italian Sub Sandwich
- Pressed Italian Sandwiches
- Deli Meat Lunch Kebabs
- Classic New Orleans Muffuletta Sandwich Recipe
- Ultimate Pastrami Sandwiches
- Russian Tea Sandwiches
- Ridiculously Good Turkey Avocado Sandwich
Summary: Lunch Meat and Pregnancy
You should take precautions when it comes to lunch meat and pregnancy. Although you shouldn’t eat cold cuts straight out of the fridge, they don’t need to be avoided entirely if you take precautions. You can easily reheat lunch meat in the microwave, pan or oven right before eating. As long as it’s reached an internal temperature of 165°F, you can be confident any potential bacteria have been killed. Make sure to take other precautions too, like washing your hands after touching the cold meat and making sure meat juices don’t contaminate surfaces or other foods.
P.S. Have you heard your baby’s heartbeat from home yet? A fetal doppler is a pocket-sized device that allows you to hear your baby’s heartbeat while she’s still in the womb! They’re the perfect way to bond between sonogram appointments.