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Ask Tufts Experts November 2019 Issue

Q. Why have I been told not to eat soft cheeses during pregnancy?

soft cheese

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Some soft cheeses may be unsafe for the immunocompromised.

A. Monica Salas, a dietetic intern at the Frances Stern Nutrition Center, answers: “Pregnant women must be cautious of exposure to disease-causing bacteria. Soft cheeses like brie, camembert, feta, gorgonzola, Roquefort, queso blanco, and queso fresco could contain Listeria bacteria, especially if they are made with unpasteurized (raw) milk. Listeria can cause an infection known as listeriosis which, although rare, can have severe consequences for both mother and baby.

“The high water content of soft cheeses makes them more likely to harbor Listeria than hard cheeses. Soft cheeses made with unpasteurized (raw) milk are estimated to be 50 to 160 times more likely to cause Listeria infection than those made with pasteurized milk. If a cheese is made with raw milk, or it does not clearly state that the product is made with pasteurized milk, it is best to avoid it during pregnancy. Hard cheeses are generally safe to eat.

“In addition to pregnant women, anyone with a compromised immune system should avoid soft cheeses (especially unpasteurized products) as well.”

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