Can Pregnant Women Eat Chicken Salad? Is It Risky or Safe?

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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Chicken salad, whether in sandwiches, from a bistro, or in front of you when you’re eating out in a restaurant, needs a couple of checks before you can be sure it’s safe to eat when you’re pregnant. What’s especially important is where and how it was prepared.

Can Pregnant Women Eat Chicken Salad? Chicken salad (fresh, canned or in sandwiches) is safe if it’s commercially made. Store-bought chicken salad may not be safe in pregnancy. Other chicken salads such as bistro or Caesar might need to be checked before you eat them.

Chicken salad can mean several different dishes, from the mayo-heavy sandwich filling to a tossed leafy green version, so I’ve tried to cover them all here. You can safely enjoy it in pregnancy if you follow these general guidelines.

Bistro, Caesar or ‘Cold Chicken’ type Salads

First up, we’ll tackle the cold-cuts type of salad. This is a chicken salad that is usually cold, cooked chicken served with other leaves and veggies, such as a bistro or Caesar salad.

If making this type of chicken salad at home:

  • Ensure that all the salad leaves, veggies or fruit you’re using is washed thoroughly. I put together a list of really useful items that can help you with this type of food prep at home.
  • Avoid pre-packaged and bagged salads, due to the small but significant risk of listeria and e-coli that has been linked to them in the past. Buy your veggies, leaves and fruit fresh, and prepare them yourself.
  • If the chicken you’re using was cooked at home, by you, make sure it was stored properly in the fridge, and use it within 2-3 days of cooking it.
  • If you’re using ready-cooked or ready-sliced pieces of chicken from a store or deli, you should heat up the chicken before adding it to your salad, to remove the risk of listeria. The advice on this differs depending on which country you’re in, so double-check my in-depth article covering deli meat and cold-cuts when pregnant.
  • Watch what type of salad dressing you’re using – Caesar salad dressing can contain raw eggs. If it’s unpasteurized (which is common), it’s not safe in pregnancy. See this article on egg safety when pregnant. There’s also this pregnancy guide to mayonnaise, too, which is also common in chicken salads.

If you’re eating this type of Chicken Salad in a restaurant:

  • Check if the produce used was prepared on-site and washed thoroughly. Higher-end restaurants will do this, and it will ensure that the produce was washed before being served.
  • Some restaurants have their salad components shipped in from a central distribution centre. With pre-packaged bagged salad, the risk of listeria contamination can be higher. It’s better to avoid these types of salad when you’re pregnant, so ask first.
  • As with making these types of chicken salad at home, check the dressings used to see if they contain raw dairy, egg or other ingredients that aren’t pregnancy safe.
  • To reduce the risk of listeria contamination, treat cold-cut chicken as you would deli meat, and request for the chicken to be heated until hot before it’s served. If the chicken is served hot/freshly cooked anyway (e.g. chargrilled chicken breast, cooked to order) then this is fine.
chicken salad with tomatoes, onions and lettuce on a plate

Mayo or Dressing Based Chicken Salads (e.g. in a Chicken Salad Sandwich)

This is the type of salad most commonly called “chicken salad”, particularly in the USA. In the UK it might come as a pre-packaged ‘sandwich filler’ or similar.

These salads are usually made from cold, cooked chicken pieces in mayonnaise or dressing, sometimes with other ingredients (e.g. celery or apple).

Whether this type of chicken salad is safe or not depends on where it’s from, and how it was prepared. I’ve listed the most common ones below:

  • From a Deli or Store-Made: Because Listeria can grow under refrigerated conditions, pregnant women should avoid salads made in-store, such as in a supermarket or deli, and this includes chicken salad (source: FDA).
  • Shop-Bought, but commercially made: chicken salad that has been made in a factory rather than in the grocery store, is safer to eat when you’re pregnant. This is because it is less likely to be cross-contaminated, and is often sealed and refrigerated when you buy it.

    These are the sealed ‘tubs’ of branded salad that you see for sale in fridges. Check if they’ve been made in-store or not. If they’ve been commercially manufactured for the store, they’re safer.
  • Homemade chicken salad: this is also a safe option if you’re pregnant, since you have total control over the ingredients that go into the salad. Fully cooked chicken that you’ve roasted yourself, left to cool, plus pasteurized mayo, will mean the salad is safe for you to eat throughout your pregnancy, especially if you’re craving a chicken salad, on its own or as a chicken salad sandwich.

Chicken Salad Brands: Are They Safe?

The same stores, brands and chain restaurants come up frequently when it comes to asking about chicken salad safety. If you’re wondering about a particular brand or chain and their salad, here are some popular ones:

Costco Chicken Salad: I contacted Costco and established that their salads are, in fact, made in-store. Unfortunately, this means that Costco’s chicken salad is not safe to eat if you’re pregnant.

If you’re really going to miss it, there’s a recipe here for a “copycat” version that I’m told does a pretty good job of tasting like the original rotisserie salad.

Potbelly’s Chicken Salad Sandwich: Potbelly’s salad isn’t suitable for pregnant women to eat (sadly), as it’s made in-store. There are lots of other options at Potbelly, though – read my guide to safe sandwich fillings in pregnancy if you want to see what other sandwiches you can eat safely.

Panera Bread: I reached out to Panera about their salad(s) and they confirmed that they’re made fresh in the restaurant, so the leafy chicken salads are safe to have if you’re pregnant.

chicken salad sandwich with apple pieces on top of lettuce

Is Canned Chicken Salad Safe In Pregnancy?

As I’ve said a couple of times already, making chicken salad yourself is one of the safest ways to eat it when you’re pregnant since you control everything that goes into the salad, and you can easily make it pregnancy-safe (and healthier!).

Is it OK to use canned chicken in a salad when you’re pregnant? Yes, you can have a canned chicken salad when you’re pregnant – in fact, canned chicken is always safe to eat (even if cold) straight out of the can, as it’s sterile and/or pasteurized first in the tin or can.

Popular brands such as Bumblebee chicken, Hormel, Kirkland, Princes, Swanson and so on are all canned chicken types you can safely have in pregnancy.

If you don’t want to go through the hassle of roasting or cooking your own chicken from scratch, then the canned chicken salad is a great (and safe) option for satisfying that chicken salad craving when you’re pregnant.

Just make sure that the other chicken salad ingredients you’re mixing in are safe (like using mayonnaise made from pasteurized eggs), and you’re good to go.

You can also put canned chicken straight onto a leafy salad that you’re making yourself, without having to heat the chicken up. Once opened, though, the canned chicken should be kept refrigerated and used up within a couple of days.

Is Chicken Salad a Healthy Option for Pregnant Women?

As with many foods in pregnancy, the answer to this one is ‘it depends’. To give you some examples:

  • If you’re making your own salad with cold chicken (cooked at home), such as a Cobb salad or a leafy green one, increase the number of fresh veggies in your salad, and add a handful of dried fruit (such as cranberries) or seeds to make it nutritious and tasty.
  • Opt for herby, lighter dressings instead of creamy, heavier ones that are higher in fat and calories.
  • If you’re eating the mayo-style chicken salad and making it yourself, go easy on the mayo, or make a yogurt-based dressing instead. If eating a commercial chicken salad, try adding more homemade salad items (cucumbers, lettuce, bell peppers and so on) to your sandwich, rather than eating just chicken and mayo.

Overall, chicken salad can be a safe, tasty option in pregnancy, if you know what to look for, and find out where and how the salad has been made.