Thanksgiving Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

Thanksgiving Dinner

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Pass the cranberry sauce, please! For some, Thanksgiving dinner might be the best meal ever when you are experiencing pregnancy cravings. And while you can definitely go to town on the mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, some items on the Thanksgiving table might be best to avoid.

During pregnancy, everything you eat should be fully cooked, so that means certain things are a no-go, like sneaking a taste of the batter while baking. Dairy products need to be pasteurized, and certain sprouts should also be avoided.

Fortunately, Thanksgiving offers a wide variety of meal options so there are plenty of safe picks to choose from. We consulted some experts to learn more about what foods are okay for pregnant people to eat, and what should be avoided on the big day.

Why You Have to Be Careful What You Eat While Pregnant

There are two main reasons you have to watch what you eat while pregnant. First, your own health requirements change when your body is in pregnancy-mode. For example, while expecting, you are at higher risk of foodborne illness.

Your baby's safety is the second reason you have to modify your diet while expecting. Everything you consume enters your baby's bloodstream too, and certain foods can be harmful to a fetus. Getting sick, such as coming down with food poisoning, can also seriously affect your unborn baby.

"Eating under-cooked meats increases the risk of developing infections such as listeria or salmonella," says Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, MS/MBA, FACOG, a double board-certified OB/GYN and maternal-fetal medicine provider, and director of perinatal services and maternal-fetal medicine at NYC Health + Hospitals. And while these illnesses are rare, the risk is too serious to take one's chances. "Listeria is particularly concerning during pregnancy and can lead to stillbirth, preterm labor, miscarriage, and/or maternal complications," says Dr. Gaither.

With that in mind, we've rounded up some of the major items you might want to steer clear of this holiday season if you're expecting. Please note that the following should not be taken as medical advice, and if you have further questions or concerns, please be sure to consult your OB/GYN, a nutritionist, or another healthcare provider.

Raw Eggs

While grandma's famous cookie dough might look delicious, it's important to avoid tasting the batter this year. In fact, you will want to avoid anything with raw eggs in it, which might include chocolate mousse, egg nog, or even Caesar salad.

When in doubt, ask the person who made the dish whether it contains any raw eggs. "Eggs that are not fully cooked put you at risk for salmonella," cautions Dr. Gaither. It's also important to note that raw flour can be a source of E. coli contamination, so even raw vegan dough should be off-limits this November.

Raw or Smoked Meat

All meat you consume should be fully cooked. Raw meat is obviously off the table, but so is anything smoked, cured, or seared. Since your risk of foodborne illness is higher while you are pregnant, only meat or fish that is completely cooked through is considered fully safe. "The only way for pregnant women to safety eat refrigerated smoked seafood is to cook it completely first," says Shweta Shah, MD, an OB/GYN at ClinicSpots.

Raw Sprouts

You might be surprised to learn that eating sprouts can also be unsafe during pregnancy. Seeds need a warm, moist environment to sprout, and bacteria can thrive in these same conditions. Because of their shape, sprouts cannot be rinsed as thoroughly as other vegetables. The only way to eat them entirely safely while pregnant is fully-cooked.

Undercooked Turkey

Poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. You should not see any pink meat when you cut into the turkey.

Undercooked Stuffing

Stuffing can be a tricky one because it may be hard to tell whether it's fully cooked. If it was prepared in the turkey's cavity, it may not have reached a high enough temperature to be safe. However, if it was cooked separately in the oven or on the stovetop, it's much more likely to be safe. Some stuffing can be cooked without turkey drippings or eggs, and those would be fine to consume without worry.

Unpasteurized Dairy Products

The delicious-looking cheese board at your holiday table might also have some things on it that you should avoid. It's important to not consume unpasteurized cheese while pregnant. "Pregnant women need to either avoid eating unpasteurized milk or cheeses or make sure any pasteurized milk or cheeses are cooked all the way through," says Dr. Shah.

Fortunately, there's a pretty easy way to figure out if you can sample each type of cheese. Hard cheese, like cheddar, is typically okay to eat. If the cheese is soft, check the packaging for the word "pasteurized." You might want to steer clear of soft cheeses if you aren't able to verify whether or not they have been pasteurized.

Unpasteurized Juice or Cider

Your sister's home-jarred apple cider might be off the menu this year. During pregnancy, you should drink only pasteurized juices, including cider. The pasteurizing process heats the juice high enough to kill any potentially harmful bacteria. Check the bottle for the word "pasteurized" before drinking any type of juice or cider.

What If I Ate Something Off-Limits Before I Knew?

If you suddenly realize there was prosciutto in that appetizer or sprouts atop your salad, take a deep breath. Listeria and salmonella are not common, so you and your baby are most likely going to be fine. Just stop eating whatever it was, and monitor yourself for any signs of foodborne illness. Reach out to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about what you ate.

Is It Safe for Me to Help Cook?

If you are going to handle any raw meat, take extra precautions to ensure that none of it comes into contact with your mouth. The best way to do this is to avoid touching the meat before it is cooked.

That being said, you can help prepare food safely as long as you wash your hands and practice safe food-handling procedures. Use separate cutting boards and knives for meat and wash all utensils, tools, and counters thoroughly with warm, soapy water before preparing anything else.

A Word From Verywell

Not all foods at the Thanksgiving table are safe to eat during pregnancy. Since you are at an increased risk for foodborne illness and because an infection could harm your baby, it's most important to avoid any undercooked foods. This includes undercooked or raw meats, stuffing, or unpasteurized dairy products or juices.

If you are helping out in the kitchen, be aware of cross-contamination and try to avoid touching raw foods. Always wash your hands thoroughly before and after preparing food.

If you are ever unsure about whether a food is safe to eat while pregnant, always speak to a healthcare professional.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Food Safety. People at Risk: Pregnant Women.

  2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Listeria and Pregnancy.

  3. Wang Z, Tao X, Liu S, Zhao Y, Yang X. An update review on listeria infection in pregnancy. IDR. 2021;Volume 14:1967-1978. doi: 10.2147/IDR.S313675.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Say No to Raw Dough.

  5. Ohio State University. Chow line: raw or lightly cooked sprouts not safe to eat for certain populations.

  6. Food Safety. Cook to a Safe Minimum Internal Temperature.

By Elisa Cinelli
Elisa is a well-known parenting writer who is passionate about providing research-based content to help parents make the best decisions for their families. She has written for well-known sites including POPSUGAR and Scary Mommy, among others.

Originally written by Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.
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