Can Pregnant Women Eat Coleslaw & Potato Salad? Is It Safe?

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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Coleslaw, potato salad, and other ready-made cold dishes are one of the largest areas of confusion in pregnancy. As these dishes are eaten in so many countries, I’ve delved into what the current advice is on food like coleslaw and potato salad – are they safe or not?

Can pregnant women eat coleslaw and potato salad? Ready-made, cold salads like coleslaw shouldn’t be eaten from a salad bar or deli counter due to the risk of listeria contamination. Homemade coleslaw and potato salad are safer, if pregnancy-safe ingredients are used.

By now you’re probably wondering if store-bought coleslaw is OK, how to make your own pregnancy-safe version, and what to do when you’re eating out, too. This is all covered below!

When Are Coleslaw and Potato Salad Unsafe in Pregnancy?

There are two things to look out for when eating coleslaw and potato salad:

  • Whether the ingredients (particularly mayonnaise or dressing) are safe. The mayonnaise should be made from pasteurized eggs, as most commercial versions are. For more on this, read about mayonnaise safety in pregnancy.

    If the potato salad or coleslaw dressing is made from raw eggs or raw egg mayo, then it’s not suitable for pregnant women due to the risk of salmonella. Other ingredients also appear in coleslaw that you might want to check, like cheese.
  • The risk of listeria contamination. Since coleslaw and other salads are cold and pre-prepared, it’s not possible to either wash the salad ingredients, or heat them up (you could, but it wouldn’t taste good!). The safest and healthiest salads are those you can easily make yourself – more on this later.

The same guidelines also apply to many other cold, ready-made salads.

coleslaw with shredded cabbage, carrot, lettuce and mayonnaise in a bowl

Why Should Pregnant Women Avoid Deli Coleslaw and Potato Salad?

Deli coleslaw should be avoided in pregnancy because it’s often displayed and stored in open containers, making it more susceptible to cross-contamination. These same precautions are also applied to deli meat.

Unlike deli meat, coleslaw is a raw product that is eaten cold and not cooked. Therefore there’s no opportunity to kill any potential bacteria (including listeria) by heating it.

Coleslaw from salad bars should be avoided for the same reason.

Can Pregnant Women Eat Store-Bought Coleslaw and Potato Salad?

Pre-prepared, pre-packaged salads like coleslaw are usually cautioned against in pregnancy. This includes versions bought in shops or supermarkets.

Listeria survives in low acid, high water, refrigerated conditions, which is why it’s more prevalent in ready-to-eat food like coleslaw and potato salad (source: ScienceDirect).

Because coleslaw is eaten cold/raw and not cooked, there’s no opportunity to kill bacteria with heat.

According to the University of Colorado’s Food Safety in Pregnancy Advice: “foods typically associated with listeriosis include refrigerated ready-to-eat perishable foods with a long shelf life that are eaten without further cooking. Outbreaks have involved foods such as coleslaw.” (1)

The British National Health Service advises pregnant women to avoid pre-prepared, cold products like coleslaw and potato salad (source: NHS).

The FDA also lists coleslaw as one of the foods that can be contaminated with listeria (source: FDA). This can happen at factory level, when the product is still sealed. It’s a common misconception that listeria only ‘grows’ in products that have been opened, or that are beyond their expiry date.

If you’re feeling glum about avoiding coleslaw and potato salad – all is not lost. There are some much healthier (and tastier) homemade versions that are totally pregnancy-safe, at the end of this article.

potato salad with mayonnaise and spring onion in a wooden bowl

Can Pregnant Women Eat Restaurant Coleslaw or Potato Salad?

I get asked a lot if it’s OK to eat coleslaw at restaurants where it’s popular like KFC, Nandos, Popeye’s and so on (it’s usually served with chicken).

Although restaurants commonly use pasteurized mayonnaise, this isn’t the issue with restaurant coleslaw, it’s the potential for bacterial contamination.

Restaurant coleslaw should be treated the same way as shop-bought coleslaw, described above. Restaurant coleslaw or potato salad is probably best avoided in pregnancy.

I’ve Been Eating Coleslaw During Pregnancy – Should I Worry?

If you’ve already eaten coleslaw, potato salad or any other similar product during your pregnancy, don’t panic. Listeria is still very rare, and the odds are that you’ll be fine.

If you’ve recently eaten a cold, pre-prepared salad that you didn’t make yourself, take a ‘watch and wait’ approach. If you experience any symptoms that are out of the ordinary or that concern you (particularly fever, diarrhea, vomiting or nausea) then contact a health professional straight away.

Going forward, you can experiment with making your own salads in pregnancy, which are healthier and safe:

coleslaw in a bowl with no mayonnaise

Pregnancy-Safe Coleslaw and Potato Salad Recipes

I hate being the bearer of bad news, so you’re probably feeling fed up about avoiding a large dollop of creamy, crispy coleslaw or a helping of potato salad. I feel your pain!

Coleslaw (and potato salad) are a common craving in pregnancy, so there IS a solution – and that’s to make it yourself. It’s much easier than you might think, and usually far more healthy, too.

When I say “make it yourself”, if you choose to use a kit (pre-shredded cabbage, etc. in a bag) you should give it a thorough wash first. For more on this, see how to wash veg in pregnancy. This also applies when you’ve chosen the veg selection to go in your slaw or potato salad.

When making homemade coleslaw or potato salad, you MUST use commercial mayonnaise, and NOT homemade (read why here, plus a list of pregnancy-safe mayo brands).

Here are two excellent coleslaw recipes from Downshiftology – one with mayo and one with a vinaigrette style dressing. They are much healthier than any store-bought version as there’s no added sugar or other nasties.

Remember, don’t use homemade mayo, though, as it contains raw egg. Swap it in the recipe for store-bought mayo and you’ll be good to go:

As an aside, there is some evidence to suggest that more acidic coleslaws (e.g. those that are tangy, with a dressing, rather than creamy, with mayo) may be better at inhibiting listeria (source: PubMed).

There’s also a great potato salad recipe, pregnancy-safe because the eggs are hard-boiled and it’s particularly good because it’s full of veggies, too. Remember to use commercial, store-bought mayo and not homemade:

Is Coleslaw Dressing OK in Pregnancy?

Most non-mayonnaise coleslaw dressings are fine in pregnancy as they’re usually based on oil, vinegar, and seasonings like herbs and mustard – all of which are pregnancy-safe.

If you’re making or buying a mayonnaise-based dressing, then make sure the mayo is made with pasteurized eggs. For more on mayonnaise safety in pregnancy, you can read this guide.

Almost all commercially made (ready-made) coleslaw dressings (e.g. Marie’s, Praise, etc.) that you buy in jars or bottles will be safe in pregnancy as they’ll be pasteurized.

Storing Homemade Potato Salad or Coleslaw

Homemade salads are a great, healthy alternative to store-bought, but you’ll still need to take a couple of steps to prevent bacterial contamination when you’re storing it, and before you’ve eaten it all.

When you’ve made your homemade coleslaw or potato salad:

  • Eat it as fresh as possible
  • If you’re taking it out (e.g. to a picnic or the beach), always use a cooler with a generous amount of ice
  • Don’t leave cold salads out at room temperature for long
  • Wrap and store any uneaten salad in the fridge, and eat it as soon as possible after making it.

If you’re keen on salads during pregnancy, you might also be interested in: