Eating Provolone When Pregnant? (Make Sure it’s Pasteurized!)

Last Updated on July 15, 2023 by Aaron

Eating hard cheeses during pregnancy is generally safe, according to the American Pregnancy Association and the UK’s NHS.

Rather than the specific type of cheese, the critical point is whether the provolone cheese is made from pasteurized milk or not.

It’s advised that hard cheeses like provolone are less likely to harbor the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause a serious infection called listeriosis and lead to severe health problems for pregnant women, including premature delivery, miscarriage, severe illness, or death of the newborn.

In many countries, including the United States, commercial cheese made from unpasteurized or raw milk must be aged for 60 days to reduce the risk of harmful bacteria like Listeria, E. coli, and Salmonella. Still, it’s essential to be cautious as some bacteria can survive this aging process.

Therefore, It’s best to make sure they’re cooked thoroughly.

Is Unpsateurized Provolone Really Unsafe?

Most domestic provolone is considered safer as they are made using pasteurized milk, which has been heat-treated to kill off potentially harmful bacteria. However, if provolone cheese or any other cheese is made from unpasteurized milk, it would carry a higher risk of bacterial contamination and could be unsafe for pregnant women.

Some imported provolone may use raw unpasteurized milk — as some people believe that raw milk is great for boosting fertility. However, the standard medical advice is to avoid any cheese made with unpasteurized milk (regardless of how long it’s been aged).

If the label does not specify, or if you’re purchasing cheese from a source where this information isn’t available, such as a farmers market, it may be safest to avoid it if you’re pregnant.

Make sure it’s labeled clearly with “Pasteurized milk” instead of just “Milk”.

Imported Provolone: Okay?

Imported provolone cheese can vary in its safety for pregnant women, depending on its manufacturing process. Read the Italian provolone production steps here. In general, provolone cheese is a semi-hard cheese typically made from cow’s milk. It originated from Southern Italy, although it’s now produced in various other parts of the world.

Imported provolone can come in different varieties, such as Provolone Piccante (aged for more than four months and has a sharp taste) and Provolone Dolce (aged for three months or less and has a mild, sweet taste). These cheeses are commonly made from pasteurized milk, but it’s not always the case.

When it comes to imported cheeses, it’s crucial to check the label for whether they’re made with pasteurized or unpasteurized milk. Some countries have different regulations than the U.S. regarding pasteurization of dairy products. For example, in some parts of Europe, it’s more common to find cheeses made from unpasteurized milk.

Smoked Provolone in Pregnancy

Smoked and unsmoked provolone can both be safe for pregnant women to eat, as long as they are made from pasteurized milk. The smoking process itself doesn’t have an impact on the safety of the cheese in relation to pregnancy.

Smoking cheese is a method of flavoring and preserving the cheese. It doesn’t significantly alter the cheese’s basic properties or safety. The cheese is cold-smoked, meaning it’s exposed to smoke but not to heat, so the cheese doesn’t actually cook during the process. It adds a unique flavor but doesn’t have any known impact on the bacteria content of the cheese.

Thermized (milk) Provolone in Pregnancy

Some varieties of provolone such as the Piccante may be produced from thermized milk. Thermization, also known as heat treatment or thermalization, is a process that involves heating milk to a temperature lower than that used in pasteurization, in an attempt to kill some bacteria while preserving more of the milk’s original flavor and characteristics.

This process does not eliminate all bacteria, including Listeria monocytogenes, which is a concern during pregnancy.

Therefore, if you’re pregnant and considering eating provolone cheese made from thermized milk, it’s important to be aware that there could be a slightly higher risk compared to provolone cheese made from pasteurized milk. While the risk might still be relatively low, due to the potential complications that can arise from listeriosis during pregnancy, many health authorities recommend pregnant women to stick with cheeses made from pasteurized milk for the highest level of safety.

It’s better to stick to some of the recommended brands:

Provolone Brands for Pregnant Women

Most widely distributed cheese brands in the U.S., including those making provolone, use pasteurized milk. This is especially true for large commercial brands. However, some artisanal or farmstead cheese producers might use raw milk, especially if they’re producing traditional European-style cheeses.

Here are a few brands you might come across:

  1. BelGioioso: An American company that specializes in Italian-style cheeses, BelGioioso makes a mild, creamy provolone that is suitable for a variety of uses.
  2. Organic Valley: This cooperative of farmers produces a range of organic cheeses, including a provolone that is mild and slightly sweet.
  3. Sargento: A well-known brand available in most supermarkets, Sargento offers sliced provolone that’s great for sandwiches.
  4. Boar’s Head: Known for their deli products, Boar’s Head makes a provolone cheese that’s slightly smoky and full of flavor.
  5. Auricchio: An Italian brand renowned for their provolone, Auricchio’s offerings range from mild to sharp and are excellent for cooking or eating straight. Made with pasteurized milk.
  6. Stella: This brand offers a variety of cheeses, including provolone. Their provolone is described as having a slightly smoky flavor, ideal for enhancing a variety of dishes.

Some of these producers also make cheeses with pasteurized milk and their offerings can change.

I recommend checking with local cheese shops or the cheese department of your grocery store. They often have knowledgeable staff who can guide you to raw milk cheeses if that’s what you’re seeking.

Some unpasteurized milk provolone examples are Buonatavola Provolone and Provolone del Monaco PDO.

As a bonus, when I crossed reference with USDA FoodData Central, here are a few brands of provolone cheese made with pasteurized milk: APPLEGATE (USDA), ORGANIC VALLEY (USDA), CHESTNUT HILL (USDA), TILLAMOOK (USDA), KRAFT (USDA), BELGIOIOSO (USDA).

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