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10 Shocking Holiday Foods That Are Unsafe During Pregnancy

Updated May 8, 2023

The holidays are a festive time filled with delicious foods and drinks. They are also a time when foods that are unsafe during pregnancy can be overlooked.

Avoiding these foods can be a challenge when trying to enjoy many of your holiday favorites. Pregnancy requires we make our food choices with care.

This means choosing foods that have ingredients that are known to be safe during pregnancy as well as paying attention to food preparation and serving.


foods to avoid during pregnancy


You already know it is important to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, but it is even more important when you become pregnant. Keep in mind that you are eating for two.

The healthier you eat the better it is for you and your pregnancy.


Not all foods are safe during pregnancy. Here are some foods you want to avoid:

  • Foods that are not pasteurized- Brie, Blue Cheese, etc.
  • Certain types of fish- shark, swordfish, anything high in mercury
  • Raw eggs
  • Undercooked meats- lunch meats.
  • Hot foods that are not “hot”, avoid hot foods that have been sitting out without a warming source. Same for foods that should be eaten cold. If there is no ice or refrigeration source keeping the food cool, take a pass.
  • Caffeine- soda, chocolate. (Limit your caffeine to less than 200 mg a day)
  • Herbal Teas (There are so many ingredients in herbal teas so it is best to simply avoid them.)

If you are ever unsure of the foods you can eat, ask your doctor for a list of food items to avoid during pregnancy.

There are usually pamphlets on the wall in the OB/GYN office, many of which are put out by The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG).

You can also search for patient information at the ACOG website:  ACOG

So what does this mean when it comes to enjoying all the deliciousness of the Holidays? 

Let’s look at the kinds of foods we should avoid and then talk about some foods we can dive right into instead!


Holiday Foods That Are Unsafe During Pregnancy:


1.  Foods that are not pasteurized.

During pregnancy, it is important to avoid foods and drinks that are not pasteurized.

That includes fresh apple cider at farms/pumpkin patches, homemade mulled cider, raw milk, homemade eggnog, and soft cheeses like Brie, Feta, and Blue Cheese.

Hard cheeses like Cheddar and Gouda are safe alternatives you can enjoy.

Salmonella, E Coli, and Listeria are often found in unpasteurized foods. If you can’t be sure these foods have been pasteurized better to pass on them.

Salmonella can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever.  During pregnancy, dehydration can cause uterine contractions.

E. Coli causes nausea, vomiting, watery or bloody diarrhea, and abdominal cramping. During pregnancy, dehydration can cause uterine contractions.

Listeria in addition to flu symptoms, fever, and muscle aches.

Pregnant women can also develop a severe uterine infection referred to as chorioamnionitis (inflammation of the membranes surrounding the fetus).

Chorioamnionitis triggers preterm labor with fever and severe uterine cramping due to uterine contractions. Listeria infection involving during pregnancy and results in labor and delivery.

The survival of the fetus will depend on gestational age at delivery and the severity of the infection.



2. Certain types of fish both raw and cooked:

Fish is popular during the holidays and many family celebrations include fish and shellfish. You’ll want to avoid fish high in mercury like shark and swordfish.

Raw fish such as Sushi and raw Oysters should also be avoided during pregnancy.

Shrimp is a good alternative, it is low in mercury, and as long as it is cooked properly is safe to eat during pregnancy.

You can also enjoy fish such as salmon and catfish. You’ll want to make they are properly cooked and avoid eating undercooked seafood.



3. Raw eggs and foods/drinks made with raw eggs:

You’ll want to pass on homemade eggnog. It is very often made with raw eggs, which are not safe to consume during pregnancy.

The eggnog you purchase in the grocery store is considered safe because it is made with pasteurized eggs, but always check the carton to be sure!

Beware of homemade salad dressings, sauces, and mayonnaise that were made with raw eggs. Always ask the host if raw eggs were used in the dish.

A favorite holiday activity in many families is baking Christmas cookies, as tempting as it may be, avoid eating any raw cookie dough. Cookie dough often contains raw eggs and the raw flour can contain bacteria.


Is Eggnog Safe During Pregnancy?

The holidays will soon be here. If you are pregnant, you may be asking yourself: Is eggnog safe during pregnancy? As clinicians, Sue and I see this question come up often and it is no surprise: Pregnant women and new moms have the ability to talk about these topics like never before.



4. Lunch types of meat and undercooked meats:

Cold cuts are off the menu during pregnancy unless they are steamed or cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

So you’ll have to pass on the holiday Charcuterie board. Cold cuts can contain a bacteria called Listeria which can be harmful to you and your baby.

Beware of undercooked meats! The holiday turkey needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of 180 degrees.

Beef, pork, and lamb should be cooked until your thermometer reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees.



5. Hot foods that are not served “hot”:

If you arrive at a holiday party and the meatballs or other hot foods are not on a hot plate, just say no, unless you can be sure they have been out for less than 2 hours.

Be cautious with carving stations, make sure the meat is well cooked and still hot.

I always suggest to err on the side of caution and pass if you can’t be sure. You do not want to eat food that has been sitting around.



6. Cold foods that are not served “cold”:

Refrigerated foods need to be kept cold. If the salad is not on ice and has been out for more than an hour, you should avoid it. That goes for any refrigerated foods that are not on ice.

Be cautious eating cold foods from the deli case. They can carry bacteria like Listeria. Listeria may not make you feel sick at all but can be very dangerous to your baby (above).



7. Caffeine:

Limit your caffeine to less than 200 mg a day. That is the equivalent of a 12-ounce cup of coffee.

During pregnancy, your ability to clear caffeine out of your system slows down significantly. You end with more caffeine on board, which means more caffeine crosses the placenta and affects your baby. So cutting back on caffeine while pregnant is a good plan.

Choose decaf coffee or tea to enjoy with dessert. Hot cocoa can be a good alternative to regular coffee or tea, it only has about 12 mg of caffeine in an 8-ounce cup.



8. Herbal Teas:

There are so many delicious herbal teas available during the holiday season, but not all herbal teas are safe to drink during pregnancy.

It is best to discuss the use of herbal teas with your doctor.



9. Stuffing:

Dressing (Stuffing) should be cooked until 165 degrees.

Stuffing cooked in the bird often doesn’t reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees, so unsafe bacteria may not be killed.

Homemade stuffing may also contain sausage. Be sure the sausage was cooked enough before it was added to the stuffing.

If possible try to enjoy stuffing that has been cooked separately from the holiday turkey.



10. Leftovers:

Let’s talk about leftovers and the holidays. Some of the best parts of the holidays are enjoying the leftovers. During pregnancy, we want to be cautious about eating leftovers.

Try to eat freshly prepared foods when possible. When eating leftovers, only eat foods that no more than 24 hours old and reheat to steaming hot.

If it is a refrigerated food that is eaten cold, only eat it if it has been kept cold the whole time.




Final Thoughts

Being pregnant means you are more susceptible to food-borne illnesses, but making wise choices and keeping these tips in mind will help you and your baby stay safe during the holidays.


What to read next:



  • Doug Penta MD OB/GYN

    Dr. Doug Penta, MD - Co-Founder of Maternity Comfort Solutions Dr. Doug Penta, is a seasoned Obstetrician and Gynecologist with over 38 years of practice, co-founded Maternity Comfort Solutions to provide evidence-based pregnancy and parenting information. A Boston University alum and former Clinical Professor at Harvard, his articles on Maternity Comfort Solutions offer expectant mothers invaluable nutritional insights.

  • Sue Winters RN

    Sue Winters, RN - Co-Founder of Maternity Comfort Solutions Sue combines 20 years of nursing with a rich background in early childhood education. Co-founder of Maternity Comfort Solutions, her articles provide creative toddler activities and practical tips on pregnancy nutrition and baby shower planning, embodying her commitment to supporting families through early parenthood.

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