As soon a test shows those two blue lines, moms-to-be are bombarded with advice about how to keep themselves and their babies healthy during pregnancy. Don’t lift too much. No drinking. Stay away from tuna. And, as most moms hear: avoid soft cheeses. Most pregnant women are cautioned to avoid soft cheese like Brie, queso blaco, Camembert, and blue cheese. But is it really important to follow this recommendation? Do pregnant women really need to avoid soft cheese? Thankfully for moms who are craving queso, soft cheese is actually okay in pregnancy in most cases.
The recommendation to avoid soft cheese isn’t entirely based in myth or hyperbole. Soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk are at a higher risk of containing a form of bacteria called listeria, which crosses the placenta and causes serious problems for unborn babies. Babies born to listeria-infected mamas are at a high risk of being stillborn, premature, or having certain birth defects. And, while a normal adult immune system can handle listeria just fine, moms-to-be are at twenty times the average risk of becoming infected. Because of that, the CDC, FDA, and USDA have issued a blanket warning urging pregnant women to avoid soft cheese.
However, there’s some evidence that the blanket recommendation against soft cheese in pregnancy might be outdated. A study in 2010 found that “improved standards and surveillance” have dramatically decreased the number of foods contaminated with listeria, rendering the no-soft-cheese recommendation obsolete. The authors concluded, “If properly handled and prepared, the chance of a food being infected with [listeria] is low. Therefore, pregnant women can consume soft cheeses, deli meats, and refrigerated ready-to-eat foods in moderation, so long as they are obtained from reputable establishments and consumed soon after purchase.”
The study’s authors also note that the risk goes from low to nonexistent if soft cheeses are cooked or pasteurized before serving– and most are. In this day and age, most soft cheeses available at your local grocery store will carry a label that says “pasteurized,” indicating that the milk in the product was effectively treated with heat and cold to kill listeria and other potentially harmful bacteria. Soft cheeses that have not been pasteurized can still be made safe simply by cooking them. So, while there may be some degree of risk if you eat unpasteurized blue cheese straight off the shelf, the risk will be gone if you plan to use it in your chicken recipe.
Ultimately, the risks of eating soft cheese during pregnancy are so low that it’s generally safe to say that moms-to-be can eat soft cheese without worry. Still, as a precaution, it may be in safest to choose pasteurized and cooked soft cheeses when available. As always, make sure you stay in touch with your doctor or midwife about your dietary choices during pregnancy, and, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact a professional for personalized help.