Thanksgiving Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

Thanksgiving Dinner

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Thanksgiving is a special time to gather around the dinner table after cooking up a feast of festive dishes. Unfortunately, pregnancy increases the risk of foodborne illness, temporarily making certain foods off-limits. Plenty of Thanksgiving favorites are still pregnancy-safe or can be easily modified for pregnancy. Here are some things to watch out for as you fill up your plate.

Undercooked Turkey and Stuffing

Turkey is the center of a traditional Thanksgiving meal. In order to be safe to eat, the turkey must be thoroughly cooked at the right temperature to kill dangerous bacteria. Undercooked turkey (or stuffing) leaves you at risk for Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, and other bacteria.

Safely thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator, not at room temperature. Newer guidelines advise not rinsing the raw turkey, as this can lead to the spread of bacteria on countertops and utensils. Cook your turkey based on its weight. Once you take it out of the oven, let it stand for 20 minutes before cutting into it.

Food safety guidelines call for the turkey meat and stuffing to be cooked to at least a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Always use a food thermometer to be sure.

This year, skip the stuffing (which is cooked inside of the turkey) and opt instead for dressing (baked in a dish in the oven or cooked on the stovetop). Because stuffing is cooked inside the bird, it runs the risk of being contaminated by undercooked meat. Cooking the "stuffing" separately eliminates this risk.

Raw Batter While Baking

Many people enjoy baking for the holidays. If you love making pies, cookies, and cakes, resist the urge to sample the batter before cooking. Uncooked cookie dough contains raw egg and raw flour, both of which can harbor dangerous bacteria.

To avoid mindlessly sampling the dough, chew gum while you're baking. If you absolutely love raw cookie dough, you can use pasteurized egg and pre-baked flour, opt for a vegan dough and heat-treated flour, or try a dessert hummus recipe that uses chickpeas instead of flour and eggs. Waiting until your baked treats are fresh out of the oven is the safest choice during pregnancy and otherwise.

The Appetizer Tray

A tray filled with hors d'oeuvres may be tempting, but during pregnancy, it's crucial to be careful with certain items, like soft cheeses, raw veggies, and cold cuts.

Raw cheese must be avoided during pregnancy because of Listeria bacteria. Be especially careful with soft cheeses, like queso fresco, queso Blanco, panela (queso panela), brie, camembert, goat cheese, gorgonzola, Havarti, Muenster, and Roquefort. Check the ingredients list on the Nutrition Facts Label to be sure that the product was made with pasteurized milk. Luckily, most cheeses in the U.S. are pasteurized.

Raw veggies need to be thoroughly washed before they're cut or consumed. Vegetables can be contaminated by bacteria and parasites in the soil, animal-based fertilizer, and the germs on other shoppers' hands at the store. Scrub with a vegetable brush under cool running water before preparing a veggie platter.

Smoked salmon (lox), cold cuts, paté, hot dogs, pepperoni, and salami are popular additions to appetizer trays. However, these items should not be consumed during pregnancy, unless they're thoroughly heated right before consumption.

As with other dishes, make sure the appetizer tray was kept cold before it was served. If it's been sitting out for two hours or more, it's no longer safe to eat.

Choosing Safe Beverages

If your family is serving up hot or cold cider, skip it if it's homemade or made from unpasteurized products. The risk here is from E. coli. Opt for cider labeled as pasteurized or sip something like hot cocoa or apple-spiced tea if you cannot ensure that cider has been pasteurized.

It's also important to watch out for hidden alcohol in drinks and always ask if you're unsure of the ingredients. If you want a fun substitute, consider virgin recipes, flavored seltzers, or sparkling cider. This may take some planning ahead, or you can supply your own fun beverage.

Moderate consumption of caffeine is considered safe during pregnancy, however, energy drinks or excessive caffeine intakes are not recommended. For most people, one to two cups of coffee per day is fine (8 ounces per cup).

General Food Safety 

Remember to wash your hands with soap and water before, during, and after food preparation to avoid germs and contaminating other foods and surfaces (cross-contamination). Thoroughly clean surfaces and utensils that have come into contact with raw meats, unpasteurized cheeses, and raw unwashed produce with warm, soapy water. When all is said and done, be sure to get food into the refrigerator within two hours for maximum safety.

A Word From Verywell

Pregnancy is an exciting time, although it does require some extra precautions. Many of the foods and drinks that are safe to consume at other times can put unborn babies at risk of birth defects or miscarriage. Equipping yourself with food safety knowledge will help you make decisions to minimize your risk of food poisoning. Ask your doctor for an overview of the latest tips if you're nervous about what to eat.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention. Foods that can cause food poisoning. Updated October 1, 2020.

  2. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Turkey basics: safe cooking. Updated October 22, 2019.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food safety tips for your holiday turkey. Updated November 10, 2020.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Listeria prevention. Updated June 17, 2019.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Toxoplasmosis & pregnancy FAQs. Updated June 26, 2019.

  6. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Moderate caffeine consumption during pregnancy. Updated 2020.