Q: Is it true that I’m not supposed to eat feta or other soft cheeses for my entire pregnancy? I love Greek salads!
A: As long as your feta is made from pasteurized milk, feel free to eat as many Greek salads as you like. The concern is a condition called listeriosis, a bacterial infection that’s typically contracted through eating certain foods, including unpasteurized milk and cheeses, says Kelly Jackson, M.P.H., an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Listeriosis is particularly dangerous during pregnancy because 20 percent of infections cause miscarriage or stillbirth; it can also result in premature delivery. What’s more, if a woman contracts the illness later in pregnancy, her baby may also become infected. “Newborns who are infected with the bacterium can become very sick from meningitis or a bloodstream infection,” Jackson explains. “Nearly 6 percent of them will die.” Still, keep in mind that the infection is relatively rare, with about 2,500 cases each year in the U.S. Of these, Jackson says 17 percent are among pregnant women, who are more prone to infections of any kind because their immune responses are suppressed. To protect yourself, avoid unpasteurized milk and cheeses; heat hot dogs, luncheon meats and deli meats until steaming hot (160° F); and eat refrigerated smoked seafood only if it has been used in a cooked dish. Canned meat spreads and canned smoked seafood are safe. Because listeriosis often causes only a mild flulike illness during pregnancy, call your doctor if you have such symptoms; if you have the infection, you will require antibiotics.