Luxury food like caviar can still be on the menu during pregnancy if you know what to look for. The same goes for all types of fish eggs and roe. Pregnant women often want to know about caviar, roe, and eggs because they’re not as easy to classify as fish or shellfish.
Caviar and other fish eggs are safe during pregnancy if they are both pasteurized and kept under refrigeration. Pregnant women should avoid raw or unpasteurized fish roe, fish eggs, and caviar due to the risk of listeria and other bacterial contamination.
This article covers all types of fish eggs (which is what caviar is), but also other types like salmon roe or eggs, trout roe, and types that are more common (and less expensive!) than traditional caviar.
Types of Caviar, Fish Eggs & Fish Roe
Since I always try to get down to specifics, here’s a list of what is meant by caviar, fish roe, and eggs because there are so many different types.
Here are the most common ones, with the Japanese/Sushi name in parentheses:
- Salmon roe or salmon eggs (Ikura)
- Caviar (any type – black, Beluga, sturgeon, osetra and so on)
- Smelt roe or smelt eggs (Masago)
- Flying Fish roe (Tobiko)
- Trout Roe or Trout Eggs
For the purposes of pregnancy safety, you can treat all the above the same way. That is, they’re only safe to eat when pregnant if both pasteurized/cooked and stored under refrigeration. The reasons for this are detailed below.
Why Raw Caviar, Fish Eggs & Roe are Unsafe During Pregnancy
Caviar and other fish eggs/roe are often served raw, as that’s the traditional way of eating them. Unfortunately, raw fish eggs can be particularly prone to bacterial contamination.
Fish eggs, roe and caviar have been studied in detail both in Scandinavia and Japan, particularly as to how safe they are when raw, cooked, pasteurized, salted and stored. This gives us good information to draw on when deciding on whether to eat fish eggs during pregnancy.
In 2005 a Japanese study randomly tested raw minced tuna and fish eggs from retail stores. Out of 208 samples, ten tested positive for listeria (three of the minced tuna, and seven of the fish eggs). That’s around 3.37% (source: Journal of Food Protection).
Another similar study tested a variety of foods for listeria in Japan including raw fish roe. Listeria was found in 5.7% of the 123 samples of salmon roe tested, and 9.1% of 164 cod roe samples (source: American Society for Microbiology).
This higher risk of listeria in raw, unheated fish eggs is why pregnant women should avoid eating raw (unpasteurized) caviar, fish eggs or fish roe.
What If I Accidentally Ate Raw Fish Eggs/Roe When Pregnant?
If you’ve eaten raw caviar, fish eggs, or roe then you might understandably be worried. However, remember that the risk of eating contaminated fish eggs that harbor enough bacteria to get sick is still very low.
The best thing to do is a) try not to stress out, because this isn’t good for you or baby, and b) adopt a practical approach and look out for any symptoms out of the ordinary in the next couple of weeks following the time you ate raw fish eggs.
Listeria symptoms can appear up to 30 days after eating contaminated food, but they usually show up sooner. Many listeria symptoms are flu-like and include muscular aches, chills, fever, nausea, or vomiting, and diarrhea (source: Mayo Clinic).
Since nausea and similar symptoms often appear in many pregnancies, you shouldn’t automatically worry that the cause is listeria, but always get checked out by your healthcare professional if you have any symptoms, and let them know what you ate, and when.
It’s better to be safe – and not worry about symptoms that could easily be something more benign.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Pasteurized or Cooked Caviar?
Pasteurization is usually used to make a raw food safe, by heating it to temperatures high enough to kill most pathogens, including listeria. However, fish eggs and roe, including caviar, still need to be refrigerated, even when pasteurized.
The type of caviar makes no difference to how much bacteria grows (source: Journal of Food Microbiology), so this applies to all fish eggs and roes, no matter what the species.
A Finnish study monitored some pasteurized rainbow trout roe to see if bacteria were able to grow. The conclusion was that pasteurization is an effective method to make fish roe much safer to eat, but fish roe should still be stored at 3C (37.4F) or below to prevent bacteria from growing, even after pasteurization (source: JFP).
A 2007 study also looked at whether the salt levels in salmon caviar (or salmon roe) made any difference. The salt levels didn’t alter the rate of bacterial growth, but the temperature it was stored at did. Salmon roe held at a cold fridge temperature of 3C (37.4F) didn’t grow any bacteria, whereas roe stored at 7C (44.6) did (source: Journal of Food Science).
This also highlights the importance of being able to tell how cold your fridge is, so you know it’s keeping food at safe temperatures. For more on this, check out my guide to fridge and culinary thermometers here.
Cooked caviar isn’t very common because it alters the delicate taste and texture. However, it does appear in some recipes, such as in a creamy sauce for pasta. If the caviar is served hot, then it will have reached a high enough temperature to kill many pathogens and can be safely eaten during pregnancy.
In conclusion – even if pasteurized or canned, you’ve got to store caviar or fish eggs in the fridge. Then it’s safe to eat cold. If it’s raw or unpasteurized, it will have to be thoroughly cooked or heated until hot (e.g. in a sauce).
One bonus is that pasteurized caviar is usually cheaper than raw/fresh.
Is Canned Caviar Pasteurized?
Canned caviar is usually pasteurized. It tends to be more heavily salted than fresh caviar, and has a firmer texture as a result.
Canned food is usually noted to be safe for pregnant women because the canning process involves pasteurization or sterilization. However, caviar and fish roe, even if pasteurized in a can, jar, or tin, needs to be stored under refrigeration too in order for it to be safe to eat during pregnancy.
Thankfully many delis, fine dining restaurants and fishmongers know this, and usually store pasteurized caviar alongside the fresh and frozen fish and seafood, on ice or in the fridge.
When buying caviar, fish eggs or roe to eat at home:
- Check that the caviar is pasteurized and not raw
- Ask if it’s always been stored under refrigeration (if it has, then it’s fine)
- When transporting it home, use a cool bag or pack to keep it at the lowest temperature possible
- Store it in the fridge, both before and after opening it
During pregnancy, avoid eating caviar, fish eggs or roe that is pasteurized or raw but stored on the shelf, at room temperature.
A Note on Sushi: If you’re eating fish eggs or roe commonly used to decorate sushi or sushi rolls, then check first with the sushi restaurant. If you’re wondering about sushi safety during pregnancy, there’s an ultimate guide for you here.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Cod Roe?
Cod roe, sometimes called hard roe, is not to be confused with caviar. It’s more common in Europe than the USA.
Cod Roe is unlike standard roe/eggs as it’s often served as a whole fish ovary with the eggs inside, cooked as one whole piece. You can also get it raw, to cook at home, or smoked.
This type of hard or pressed roe is safe for pregnant women to eat if it’s fully cooked all the way through. Bear in mind that it’s often battered or fried, so might contain a lot of fat and calories, even though it’s quite nutritious, with generous amounts of vitamins A, D, B12 and Selenium (1).
Are Fish Eggs Good for Pregnant Women? What Are The Benefits?
So long as you eat cooked or pasteurized and refrigerated caviar or fish eggs, you can benefit from their generous nutritional profile when you’re pregnant.
Fish roe is high in protein, and is an excellent soure of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as essential minerals such as phosphorous and selenium. Fish eggs are also a very good source of vitamins including Vitamin C, riboflavin, B12 and folate (source: USDA Nutrition Database).
Overall, if you can find the right kind of fish eggs and roe, or want to enjoy caviar when you’re pregnant – it can be a good, nutritious option.
If you’re wondering about other ‘luxury style foods when you’re pregnant, there are some more complete guides on: