Eat Cheddar Cheese During Pregnancy — Is it Safe?

From clothbound to waxed varieties, cheddar cheese is a popular longer-aged cheese made from cow’s milk which may or may not be pasteurized. It can be a nutritious option for pregnant women when eaten in moderation. The cheese provides important nutrients like protein, vitamin A, zinc and calcium to help keep a healthy pregnancy.

But, can you eat cheddar cheese during pregnancy? The answer is yes — as legally required that nearly all shelved cheddar cheese made in the US are using pasteurized milk by default, otherwise has to be aged for 60 days or more. With that being said, you may run into unpasteurized or imported raw cheddar in farmer’s market or specialty stores, where these 29 states also allowed the sale of raw milk cheese. Thus, you should check the label and make sure it says “pasteurized milk” or just ask the cheesemonger if the cheese you’re getting is pasteurized.

***Pasteurization is the process of heating the milk to a certain temperature for a specific period of time to kill off any dangerous bacteria. This makes it much safer for pregnant women to consume cheddar cheese.

Cheddar is a hard-ripened cheese. The natural ripening process of cheddar is taking place in an acidic and salty condition for a long period (months or years) where the cheese will get drier too, thus the harmful bacteria are less likely to survive in it. However, unpasteurized cheese may still carry a small percentage risk of containing Salmonella (0.19%), Listeria (0.19%), and E. coli – (3.84%) as reported by the FDA [1]. But it’s generally less than one percent overall.

Table by FDA (see reference) Summary Report: Raw Milk Cheese Aged 60 Days. Both domestic & import hard cheese samples contamination rate by salmonella and listeria.

Eating Unpasteuruzed Cheddar during Pregnancy

Eating unpasteurized cheddar doesn’t mean that it’s all bad for you. In fact, research has shown that raw milk cheese can be high in beneficial bacteria which aid digestion and strengthens the immune system. Also, it tastes better. But consuming unpasteurized cheddar cheese during pregnancy may increase your risk of foodborne illnesses like listeria, salmonella, and E. coli.

It can cause serious health complications such as premature birth, miscarriage, and even stillbirth. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the risks and benefits when considering eating unpasteurized cheddar cheese during pregnancy.

Old Cheddar by Modern’s Organic Farm Store, website.

In most parts of Europe countries, all hard cheeses are safe to eat whether pasteurized or not. And unpasteurized aged cheddar cheese is still commonly consumed by pregnant women traditionally. Alternatively, some cheddars are made using thermized or “heat-treated” milk. The milk is sanitized at a lower temperature than pasteurization to kill some, but not all, of the natural pathogens while still retaining some of the beneficial enzymes and flavor in raw milk. Legally, it may still be considered raw milk.

If you are not feeling safe about eating unpasteurized ones, you can always opt for pasteurized cheddar cheese. Studies suggested that the benefits of consuming raw milk products do not outweigh the risk; whereby pasteurized milk confers equivalent benefits [2].

Key Takeaway

Most of the store-bought commercial cheddar cheese available in the United States is pasteurized – including the Cabot, Kerrygold, and Tillamook – so pregnant women can eat them without any worries. Likewise for the pre-grated, shredded, powdered, or sliced cheddar version. Aside from that, It is also important to make sure the cheese package is well-sealed, not expired, and stored at the proper temperature — as contamination can happen too if it’s not following handling practices or procedures.

Additionally, it’s safe for pregnant women to eat smoked, waxed, processed, or clothbound cheddar as long as it’s made with pasteurized milk. You can eat it straight off, or melt it on your food.

Source:

  1. https://www.fda.gov/food/sampling-protect-food-supply/microbiological-surveillance-sampling-fy14-16-raw-milk-cheese-aged-60-days
  2. Committee on Infectious Diseases et al. “Consumption of raw or unpasteurized milk and milk products by pregnant women and children.” Pediatrics vol. 133,1 (2014): 175-9. doi:10.1542/peds.2013-3502
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