Can Pregnant Women Eat Pastrami and Deli Meats?

Welcoming a baby is an exciting time filled with change and, often, a long list of do’s and don’ts. Among the sea of information available to expectant parents, food safety is a recurring theme, leaving many mothers-to-be questioning what they can and cannot eat. One question that often pops up is: “Can pregnant women eat pastrami?” This article aims to clear the air around this topic, providing easy-to-understand information to help pregnant people make informed decisions about their diets.

Pregnancy cravings are real and nothing hits the spot quite like a delicious deli sandwich. For many, this means enjoying pastrami between two slices of freshly baked bread. However, as with most foods during pregnancy, there are certain considerations to keep in mind before indulging in this savory treat.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not give medical advice.  Always check with your healthcare provider for any questions or concerns.

Can Pregnant Women Eat Pastrami?

You have likely heard that pregnant women should avoid eating deli meats, including pastrami. This may be concerning, as it is a popular and tasty choice in many households. But what makes pastrami so questionable for a pregnant woman? The answer lies in the way that lunch meat is made and stored.

Traditional pastrami starts with beef brisket that is cured or preserved with salt, spices, and sodium nitrite. It is then smoked, giving it that distinct flavor and texture. While this process helps preserve the meat, it also presents a potential risk for pregnant women. You can typically find it at the deli counter or in pre-packaged containers.

Hot pastrami sandwiches are prepared by heating the meat, which can help kill any harmful bacteria that may be present. However, cold pastrami sandwiches are typically not heated before consumption, which is where the concern lies. Deli meats like pastrami can potentially contain listeria.  Listeria is a type of bacteria that can cause serious infection, food poisoning, and preterm labor. In extreme cases, it can even cause miscarriage.

Reuben sandwiches and pastrami on rye bread are popular choices for many people, but it may not be worth the risk during pregnancy. A reuben is typically made with Russian dressing and sauerkraut. Be sure to check that the dressing is made with pasteurized ingredients before consuming. It is important to note that listeria can survive even when refrigerated.

So, should pregnant women completely avoid pastrami? The short answer is no. With proper precautions, pregnant women can safely enjoy a delicious pastrami sandwich and other deli meats.

A bagel filled with pastrami sites on a white plate.

What Are The Risks of Eating Pastrami During Pregnancy?

A non-pregnant healthy person can handle the risks that come with eating cold-cured meats, but pregnant women may not have the same immunity or ability to fight off bacteria. During pregnancy, the immune system is slightly suppressed to protect the growing baby, making a pregnant person more susceptible to foodborne illnesses. This makes it harder for them to fight off infections and increases the likelihood of complications. Furthermore, the bacteria can cross the placenta and infect the baby, leading to serious health issues.

Listeria is a common concern when it comes to deli meats and pregnancy. Listeria is a type of bacteria that can cause infection and illness, especially in pregnant women and their unborn babies. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant women are 10 times more likely to get listeriosis, the infection caused by Listeria, than the general population.

As mentioned above, the main concern with pastrami is the potential presence of Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. This type of bacteria can cause a foodborne illness known as listeriosis, which can have serious consequences for pregnant women and their babies. A listeria infection could even lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, and low birth weight or illness in the newborn.

Symptoms of listeriosis in pregnant women may be mild, such as fever, muscle aches, upset stomach, and other flu-like symptoms. However, the infection can also lead to more severe symptoms like headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance or coordination, and convulsions. In some cases, the infection can even spread to the nervous system or blood stream.  Treatment typically involves antibiotics, but prompt treatment is crucial to avoid any harm to the mother or baby.  If you feel you have been exposed, seek immediate medical attention.

How Can You Reduce the Risks of Eating Deli Meat During Pregnancy?

While it is a general rule for pregnant women to avoid cold cuts and cold deli meats, including pastrami, there are steps you can take to reduce the potential risks for both you and your developing fetus.

First, make sure that the pastrami is freshly sliced and served hot. This reduces the chances of any potential bacteria growing on the meat. Deli meats that are pre-packaged or have been sitting out for a while should be avoided.

Second, you can also heat up deli meats before consumption to kill off any bacteria present. This can be done by microwaving or cooking them until they are steaming hot. However, pregnant women should limit or avoid consuming processed meats altogether, as these are often high in nitrates and sodium.

The American Pregnancy Association advises pregnant women to avoid consuming deli meats, including pastrami, unless they are heated to an internal temperature of 165°F. You can use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. The high temperatures can kill off any potential listeria bacteria present in the meat, making it safe for consumption. However, not all deli counters will have the means or willingness to heat up each slice of pastrami before serving it.

Finally, it is essential to practice good food hygiene at all times. This includes washing your hands before and after handling any food, including pastrami. It is also crucial to clean utensils, cutting boards, and countertops after they have come into contact with raw pastrami.

What Other Foods Have a Listeria Risk?

On top of deli meat, there are other foods that may pose a listeria risk for pregnant women and their unborn baby. Produce can also be a source of listeria if not properly handled and washed. This includes pre-cut fruits and vegetables and unpasteurized juices.  It is a good idea to pay attention to any news of a listeria outbreak near you and avoid purchasing any of the contaminated food.

Some other foods that can put you at risk include:

  • Soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk, such as feta, Brie, Camembert, blue cheese, soft ripened goats’ cheese, and other soft ripened dairy products
  • Raw sprouts (e.g., alfalfa, clover, radish)
  • Raw eggs and quail eggs
  • Smoked seafood
  • Hot dogs
  • Refrigerated meat spreads or pates
  • Liver products
  • Undercooked meat, raw meat, raw shellfish, raw poultry, and raw seafood. Also limit or avoid seafood that contains too much mercury.

To ensure the safety of you and your baby, it is essential to follow food safety guidelines when handling and consuming these foods. It may seem like you have a lot of dietary restrictions when pregnant, but the standards are in place to protect both the mother and the baby’s health.

A gloved hand holds down a pastrami sandwich as they cut it in half with a knife.

Alternatives to Pastrami and Deli Meat During Pregnancy

If you are wanting to exercise caution and completely avoid deli meat altogether, there are a few alternatives.   Lean meats like roasted turkey or chicken can be safe alternatives for deli meat. You could also use these as filling in a cold or hot sandwich instead of pastrami.

Another option is to cook the meat yourself at home, ensuring that it reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165°F before consumption. This way, you have full control over the handling and cooking process.

Furthermore, there are many plant-based alternatives available, such as tofu or tempeh, that can be used in place of deli meat. These options are not only safe for pregnant women but also provide important nutrients and protein.

If you want to add dairy products to your sandwich, stick with safe options, such as hard cheeses made from pasteurized milk, cream cheese, or cottage cheese. Be sure to check labels and avoid any soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk.

You do not have to sacrifice taste or convenience during pregnancy. By following proper food safety measures and exploring alternative options, you can still enjoy a variety of delicious and safe meals while protecting yourself and your baby from potential listeria risks. As always, it is crucial to consult with your doctor before making any significant dietary changes during pregnancy. 

In conclusion, pregnancy brings about many changes in a woman’s body, including an increased risk for foodborne illnesses. While pregnant women can enjoy many foods in moderation, it is essential to take precautions when consuming deli meats like pastrami. By following the guidelines mentioned above and being aware of other foods that pose a listeria risk, you can safely indulge in a delicious pastrami sandwich during your pregnancy. Remember to always consult with your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about your diet during pregnancy.  Stay informed and stay safe!  

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