Cheese

Cheese has been described as one of the most missed foods during pregnancy as some types are deemed unsafe for consumption.

The reason cheese is a problem is due to its links with listeriosis, an infection that can contaminate certain foods.  What is concerning is that you may not even realise you have the infection, as it does not necessarily cause symptoms. The infection however if present in a pregnant woman’s blood will cross the placenta and infect the fetus, which can increase the risk of spontaneous miscarriage, or cause a serious infections in utero. See the page Foodborne illnesses for more details.

Which types of cheese can I eat and which should I avoid?

Cheeses that are affected are those that have not been exposed to very high temperatures or ‘heat treatment’ during their formation, or have been potentially exposed to the organism during packaging and storing.

1. Mould ripened – eg. brie, camembert, blue, gorgonzola

  • Cheeses come in white and blue forms.
  • Both types have been ‘ripened’ in their formation and exposed to organisms – eg. blue variety has mould throughout the cheese, white variety has a ‘white’ mould on its surface.
  • Avoid as not safe.

2. Soft Italian – eg. mozzarella, provolone, boccocini

  • Cheese undergoes a heat treatment for a long enough time to kill any Listeria organisms.
  • Generally safe to consume if pre-packaged.
  • Avoid deli varieties.

3. Semi-soft and hard – eg. edam, gouda, colby, swiss, gruyere, parmesan

  • Cheese contains very little moisture and environment not favourable for organisms to survive.
  • Generally safe to consume.
  • Store in fridge.
  • Consume within 4 days of opening.

4. Soft unripened – eg. cottage cheese

  • High moisture content however are exposed to high heat during processing.
  • Considered safe to consume if pre-packaged.
  • Consume within 4 days of opening.

5. Whey cheese – eg. ricotta

  • Cooked at high temperatures however are high in moisture content, which favours the growth of the organisms.
  • Can become contaminated during packaging.
  • Avoid as not safe.

6. High salt cheese – eg. feta

  • High salt content can stop the growth of organism.
  • However bacteria can survive up to 90days in the salty environment, hence food may still be contaminated if eaten.
  • Avoid.

7. Processed – eg. cream cheese

  • Processed at high temperatures for several minutes.
  • Safe to eat if pre-packaged.
  • Eat within 4 days of opening.

If any of the above cheeses are used in a recipe and the dish is then cooked at very high temperatures and served hot, this means that the cheese should be allowed. For example, ricotta in a cannelloni dish will be safe for you to consume.

Dips too are at risk of being contaminated. This risk will depend on the composition of the dip and whether there are any dairy ingredients, as well as salt content, addition of preservatives, or if exposed to high temperatures.

Cheese is great in the diet as it provides a great calcium serve to the body, with 2 slices of cheese providing 1 serve of dairy. Just remember that not all cheeses are safe, and follow the guidelines above.

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