Thanksgiving Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

Thanksgiving Dinner

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Thanksgiving is usually a time to gather with family or friends. Typically these celebrations center around a variety of foods. Because pregnant people are at increased risk for foodborne illness, and foodborne illness can harm a growing baby, it's safest to steer clear of some traditional Thanksgiving offerings. The good news is that there are still plenty of dishes that are pregnancy-safe, as well as many that can easily be modified to be safe to eat during pregnancy. The following foods pose an increased risk for foodborne illness and are best avoided.

Undercooked Turkey

One of the most talked about traditional foods is the turkey. And if you watch the media around the month of Thanksgiving, there are lots of people talking about how to cook a turkey correctly to avoid foodborne illness. Your turkey needs to be thoroughly cooked. Undercooked turkey (or stuffing) leaves you at risk for salmonella or toxoplasmosis.

USDA guidelines call for the turkey meat and stuffing to be cooked until the minimum internal temperature is 165 °F. It is best to use a food thermometer to check accurately.

Stuffing Cooked in a Turkey

This year, skip the stuffing (which is cooked inside of the turkey) and opt for dressing (baked in a dish in the oven or on the stovetop). Because stuffing is cooked inside the bird, it runs the risk of being contaminated by undercooked meat as well as not getting hot enough on the inside to destroy those germs.

Raw Batter 

Many people enjoy baking for the holidays. Families traditionally love to make pumpkin pies, cookies, and cakes. Just be watchful that you don't sample the batter while cooking or contaminate a surface that isn't cleaned with the raw batter. Uncooked cookie dough contains raw egg and uncooked flour, both of which can harbor dangerous bacteria and must be cooked before eating.

Try snacking on some pregnancy-safe foods as you bake and wait until your baking is done before sampling. If you absolutely love raw cookie dough, you can use pasteurized egg and pre-baked flour, opt for a vegan dough and use heat-treated flour, or try a dessert hummus recipe that uses chickpeas instead of flour and eggs.

Soft or Unpasteurized Cheeses

There is nothing as yummy as a big tray full of hors-d'oeuvres like fruit and soft cheeses. It's important to opt for cheese made with pasteurized milk during pregnancy. Luckily, many of the cheeses sold in the U.S. are made with pasteurized milk. Check the ingredient label to be sure that the product was made with pasteurized milk—it should say "made with pasteurized milk" on the label as well as in the ingredient list.

Be especially aware of soft cheeses, like queso fresco, queso blanco, panela (queso panela), brie, Camembert, goat cheese, Gorgonzola, Havarti, Muenster, and Roquefort. It's also important to make sure that the cheese was kept cold before being used to make the cheese platter and that it hasn't been sitting out for too long before you eat it (no more than two hours).

Homemade Sauces and Creams 

Some traditional sauces like Hollandaise sauce, creams, or ice cream can be made with undercooked eggs. This increases the risk of salmonella. Consider using a pasteurized egg product like Egg Beaters instead of whole eggs to reduce the risk of contamination.

Unpasteurized Ciders

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.

Raw Vegetables 

These need to be thoroughly washed before you eat them. They can be exposed to bacteria in the soil, contamination via animal-based fertilizer, and bacteria on other shoppers' hands at the store. If not properly washed, you're also exposed. Take charge of washing them yourself to ensure a good, thorough scrubbing using a vegetable brush.

Smoked Meats 

Looking at some lox or smoked salmon? Unless you know it's from a can, skip it. Those products found in the refrigerated section of the grocery can be contaminated with listeria. The same goes for paté. There are commercially prepared vegetarian paté options available.


Watch 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 supply your own fun beverage.

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 it's all said and done, be sure to get food into the refrigerator within two hours for maximum safety.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Foodborne Germs and Illnesses. Updated March 18, 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 4, 2019.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Say no to raw dough. Updated December 4, 2019.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Listeria: Prevention. Updated June 17, 2019.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Toxoplasmosis & Pregnancy FAQs. Updated June 26, 2019.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevent Infections During Pregnancy. Updated June 19, 2019.