You may be wondering if it is safe to eat Parmesan cheese while pregnant. The answer to this question is a little more complicated than just yes or no. Let’s start by discussing whether all Parmesan cheese is pasteurized or not.
Pasteurization is a heat treatment process to kill harmful bacteria.
Many people believe that all types of Parmesan cheese sold in the US are automatically pasteurized, but this is not always the case.
Some brands of Parmesan cheese such as Italian Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) are always made with unpasteurized milk, which means they may potentially contain harmful bacteria like listeria.
However, study (1) shows a decrement of listeria bacteria to almost linear after the initial cooking at about 51 °C (124 °F) during the parmesan production, and not detected after 2 weeks of aging. A few other studies also suggest low risk associated with listeria as parmesan is not a favorable medium.
It’s primarily due to the low moisture content of 32% (may lower if older) in parmesan cheese which is typically aged for 12-24 months or longer – also a reason why parmesan can’t melt well.
However, there is still some risk associated.
A Canadian report of grated Parmesan by Arla Foods had been reported may contain listeria and has recalled their distributed parmesan products.
In a listeria report in Italy (2), one of the cases was a hospitalized 55-year-old woman who claimed to have also eaten a parmesan portion stored in a thermic bag for a few days.
So, Is Parmesan Cheese Safe to Eat When Pregnant?
The answer is, it depends. If you are pregnant and crave Parmesan cheese, your best bet is to buy a brand that is made with pasteurized milk.
If you are unsure whether the Parmesan cheese you have is pasteurized or not, you can check the label for “pasteurized milk” in ingredient.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), hard cheese like parmesan does not support the growth of listeria and poses the lowest risk of contamination.
Also, “Pregnant women should only eat cheese labeled made from pasteurized milk.”
In the very first place…
But why is unpasteurized parmesan allowed by the FDA?
The given condition was the unpasteurized-milk cheese is aged at 60 days or longer, at 35°F or above. However, “some pathogenic bacteria such as Listeria may not always be inactivated.”
The Italian parmesan – Parmigiano Reggiano – is made with unpasteurized milk and aged for 12 months minimum.
A report by the FDA summarizing the percentage of bacteria infection in a total of 521 unpasteurized cheese aged for 60 days minimum:
- Salmonella – 0.19%
- Listeria – 0.19%
- Generic E. coli – 3.84%
- Shiga Toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) – 0.38%
- Pathogenic STEC – 0.19%
Overall, eating parmesan or other hard cheeses has less than a 1% chance to be infected with harmful bacteria. This can be especially serious to high-risk groups, such as pregnant women and the elderly.
That’s a much higher chance than winning a lottery! (about 1 in 14 million).
Use Parmesan in Hot and Cooked Dishes?
Listeria can’t survive above 165ºF (74ºC). Thoroughly cooking parmesan or re-heating it will be enough to kill listeria.
Therefore, some people also recommend cooking the Parmesan cheese before eating it to help kill any harmful bacteria. Use parmesan in piping hot dishes, toss rind in soup, or make parmesan crisps. Make sure parmesan is served hot or cooked for your ease of mind.
If you are still unsure about whether or not it is safe to eat Parmesan cheese while pregnant, please consult with your doctor.
Which Parmesan Cheese Brands is Safest to Eat When Pregnant?
If you are looking for a Parmesan cheese that is considered safe to eat while pregnant, try to look for brands made with pasteurized milk. In other words, the imported Parmigiano Reggiano is ruled out.
Some brands that fit this description include:
- Sartori – Parmesan Cheese USDA, Shredded Parmesan USDA, Grated Parmesan USDA
- Kraft – Parmesan Cheese USDA, Grated Parmesan USDA
- Stella – Parmesan Cheese USDA
- Frigo – Parmesan Cheese USDA
- Organic Valley – Parmesan USDA
- Aldi – Reggano Grated Parmesan USDA
- Other brands include 4C, Milano’s, Trader’s Joe, 365 Whole Foods Market, and Great Value.
Different cuts of parmesan (block, shredded, grated, shaved) may be pasteurized, please check the milk used.
So, while the risk may be low, it’s important to take into consideration that not all Parmesan cheese is pasteurized.
If you’re pregnant, make sure to buy a brand that is labeled as “pasteurized” or “made with pasteurized milk.”
Pasteurized or not, you can also cook Parmesan cheese to kill any potentially harmful bacteria.
Does Eggplant Parmesan Induce Labor?
Some believed eggplant Parmesan may induce labor. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. While some foods may stimulate contractions, they will not necessarily lead to labor. Eggplant Parmesan is safe to eat during pregnancy and will not cause harm to you or your baby.
Is Aged Parmesan Cheese Safe to Eat When Pregnant?
Aged Parmesan cheese is safe to eat when pregnant as long as it is made with pasteurized milk. The unpasteurized source i.e. Parmigiano Reggiano, may still pose a low risk. You can also cook aged Parmesan cheese to kill any harmful bacteria.