Can Pregnant Women Eat Crab and Imitation Crab? Is It Safe?

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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Crab is popular, tasty and a lean source of protein, so no wonder many pregnant women want to know if they can eat it safely. Shellfish and seafood can be a confusing area when you’re worried about what you can and can’t eat when you’re pregnant, so I investigated all types of crab meat in detail, including imitation crab.

Can Pregnant Women Eat Crab? Pregnant women can safely eat all types of crab meat (including legs and claws) if it’s freshly and fully cooked. Imitation crab is usually safe in pregnancy, too. Some crab dishes may need to be checked before eating them in pregnancy.

Crab is so versatile, it appears in a lot of recipes. There are loads of different crab species, too. To make sure you get the most detailed information on eating all types of crab in pregnancy, I’ve researched many popular dishes for this article.

The Safest Way of Eating Crab in Pregnancy

Crab meat is safe if it’s fully cooked and eaten as soon as possible after cooking it. Raw or undercooked crab should be avoided when you’re pregnant as it may lead to foodborne illness (source: NHS).

Since nobody likes to eat raw crab (even if they’re not pregnant!), it’s the undercooked type you should watch out for. This is particularly true of larger crab species as the bigger the crab, the longer the cooking time. Always check the recommended cook times for any crab recipe.

As crab is something that spoils quickly (cooked crab only lasts about three days in the refrigerator), here are some tips on selecting and eating crab meat when you’re pregnant:

  • If you didn’t cook the crab yourself, check when it was cooked, if you can. This is a good idea if you’re eating ‘fresh dressed’ crab, or ones in sandwiches, subs or as a crabmeat topping.
  • Cooked crab meat should be pearly and opaque, not translucent or slimy. Fresh crab meat should have a faint, sweet smell. Anything that smells sour or fishy may have gone bad.
  • When buying fresh crab to cook yourself, check for specimens that have been stored properly in a clean tank, and are still alive and moving. Dead, uncooked crabs spoil very quickly and should be avoided.
  • Shelf-stable crab meat (often labeled jumbo lump crab meat or similar) is the tinned type in a can, found on a shelf rather than in a fridge. This is usually pasteurized and is safe to eat. Once opened, store it in the fridge and eat it within a couple of days.
  • Fresh picked crab meat that isn’t pasteurized is sometimes in a can or tub that will always be displayed in a refrigerator or on ice. This is still safe to eat, but treat it like fresh crab – check the ‘use by’ dates on it, and don’t exceed them.
boiled crabs on a plate

Is Crab High in Mercury?

Crab is very low in mercury compared to some other seafood and fish. The FDA lists crab (Blue, King, and Snow) as having an average of 0.065 parts per million of mercury, which is one of the lowest levels for seafood (source: FDA).

The Environmental Defense Fund’s ‘Seafood Selector’ lists many species of crab (king, blue, stone, snow, Dungeness and southern tanner) as “low” in mercury, too. Therefore, due to its low mercury level, crab is a good option for pregnant women.

How Much Crab Can Pregnant Women Eat?

The FDA in the USA recommends that pregnant women eat 8-12oz (3-4 servings) of a variety of seafood and fish per week (source: FDA). Crab is one of their ‘best’ choices as it’s low in mercury (see above).

In the UK, the NHS lists crab as one of the recommended seafood types to eat in pregnancy, but give no upper limit. Basing the limits on the US advice, pregnant women can, in theory, eat up to 12oz (340g) of crab per week, but it’s much better to eat a variety of fish to benefit from a diverse nutritional profile, rather than one type.

Is Crab Good or Bad for You if You’re Pregnant?

Crab is a lean, complete protein that is low in calories (around 75 for a 3oz/85g serving) (source: SFGate). It’s high in vitamin B12, calcium, folate, zinc and phosphorous (source: Precision Nutrition).

The FDA recommends crab as one of the ‘best choices’ of seafood for a healthy diet during pregnancy (source: FDA).

Bear in mind that a lot depends on how the crab is served. If it’s freshly steamed, served with minimal heavy dressings, then it can be a healthy and lean source of protein.

If you’re eating it baked with a lot of cheese, mixed with a lot of mayo, or with huge amounts of butter, you’ll add unnecessary calories and fat. Better choices would be to use it dressed with herbs and veggies such as in a wrap or as a salad topping.

Crab can be high in sodium or cholesterol, depending on the species. This isn’t normally a concern if only eating crab a couple of times a week. However, if you’re watching your sodium/salt intake, or have to monitor your cholesterol levels, then check this first before eating crab.

Can Pregnant Women Eat Crab Claws and Crab Legs?

Pregnant women aren’t just restricted to the type of white and brown crab meat that is picked from the main body of the crab.

It’s safe to eat crab claws and crab legs when you’re pregnant, so long as the legs and claws have been fully cooked (see above for more advice on this).

crab claws on a plate with herbs

Are All Species of Crab OK in Pregnancy?

I’m often asked about different species of crab, and whether they’re all safe to eat in pregnancy. Different crabs are eaten in different parts of the world, depending on what’s available near your coastline (or what gets shipped in).

For the avoidance of doubt, all the crab species below are safe to eat when you’re pregnant, so long as the crab meat is thoroughly cooked:

  • Brown Crab – common in the UK, Europe, around the North Sea and the Med. Also called the ‘edible crab’
  • Blue Crab – also called the ‘Chesapeake Crab’, found mostly on the East Coast of the USA
  • Dungeness Crab – commonly found on the West coasts of North America
  • King Crab (also called the Red King crab or Alaskan King Crab), often found in cold waters such as the North Pacific
  • Stone Crab – also known as the Florida Stone Crab, they’re famed for their huge claws and are found in the Western part of the North Atlantic.
  • SoftShell Crab – this isn’t a species but refers to eating crabs that have molted and therefore still have a soft shell. In the USA these are usually Blue Crabs.
  • Snow Crab – also known as the Opilio Crab, known for its large, long legs, which are often served or bought on their own.
  • Peekytoe Crab – used to be called the Maine Rock Crab or Sand Crab. Quite hard to find but prized for its meat.
  • Horseshoe Crab – Not technically a crab, and hard to find outside Asia. However, they’re still edible and safe to eat if cooked.

Can Pregnant Women Eat Imitation Crab?

Imitation crab (which may also be labeled artificial crab, faux crab, crab sticks, seafood sticks, kamaboko or surimi) is safe to eat in pregnancy as it’s already fully cooked. Plus, it’s not actually made of crab!

Imitation crab is made out of a fish paste, commonly Alaskan pollock, held together with different ingredients depending on the recipe. This could be egg white, transglutaminase, potato starch or wheat. The red or pink color comes from food coloring, and salt and sugar are sometimes added.

If egg is used, it’s cooked as part of the manufacturing process. As long as there’s no allergy issue, imitation crab contains ingredients that are usually pregnancy safe. That said, “you get what you pay for” and you’ll have realized from the listed ingredients that imitation crab is a heavily processed food containing several additives.

Imitation crab, therefore, doesn’t have the benefits of authentic, fresh crab meat, which is why imitation crab is often a lot cheaper than the real thing. Real crab contains more vitamins and minerals. Real crab also has no carbs or added sugars, which is common in the manufacture of imitation crab (source: PubMed).

There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with eating imitation crab when you’re pregnant. It’s cheap, convenient and is safe to eat. However, if you pay a little extra for real crab, you’ll have the benefits of more vitamins and minerals, as well as a good source of lean protein, without any additives.

crab legs on a plate

Crab Dishes and Their Safety in Pregnancy

Crab is a versatile ingredient and appears in many recipes. Some of them may need double-checking before tucking in when you’re pregnant, so I’ve broken down the most commonly queried crab dishes below.

  • Crab Rangoon (also known as crab wontons, crab puffs or crab dumplings) can contain either real or imitation crab meat. The crab meat is almost always cooked before the little parcels are formed and fried, so crab rangoon is safe to eat when pregnant.
  • Crab Cakes vary wildly in their ingredients, however, they usually contain egg to bind them together. As long as they’re cooked through (no runny batter or center, and no undercooked crab), then crab cakes are safe in pregnancy. If you’re dipping them in a mayo-based sauce, make sure it’s made from pasteurized eggs. For more on mayo in pregnancy, you can read my article on this here.
  • Crab Sushi is almost always made with imitation crab, rather than real crab. Either is fine – imitation crab sushi is safe, as is real crab sushi, so long as the crab is cooked through. Traditional, raw fish sushi isn’t safe to eat in pregnancy.
  • Crab Paste, usually a spreadable sandwich filling, is safe to eat if it’s pasteurized, which it almost always is. If the crab paste is in a can or jar and is on a shelf, and not in a fridge (e.g. Shippam’s) then it’s safe. If it’s the Asian type (dehydrated paste used in Thai and similar cooking), then it’s safe if cooked through as part of the final dish.
  • Crab dip, if it’s the hot version baked in the oven with cheese, is almost always safe as the temperatures reached make it safe to eat in pregnancy. You can check if the cheese is safe by finding it on my list of pregnancy-safe cheeses.

    If it’s the cold version made with mayo or cream cheese, then check if the cream cheese is pasteurized, and the same with the mayo. You can read more on the safety of cream cheese here, and all about mayo here.
  • Potted Crab or Crab Pâté should be avoided in pregnancy, as all pâtés are more susceptible to listeria contamination (sources: NHS, APA).
  • Crab Salad and Crab Rolls often contain the same thing: crab (sometimes imitation crab) mixed with mayonnaise and other ingredients. So long as the mayonnaise is pasteurized (and you can read about that here), crab salads and rolls should be safe to eat in pregnancy.

    If the salad is a Crab Louie, check first that the eggs are hard-boiled (they usually are), and that the dressings or mayo are made with pasteurized eggs, too. You can read more about egg safety in pregnancy here.
  • Crab Bisque or Crab Chowder is usually safe to eat as the crab is cooked in the bisque, soup or chowder. Occasionally alcohol such as brandy is added to bisque, but usually in such small amounts, it’s nothing to be concerned about (I wrote a separate article on the pregnancy-safety of alcohol in food here).

    Chowders and bisques often contain cream or milk, so check that this is pasteurized, though it almost always is.
  • Fresh Dressed Crab is safe to eat when you’re pregnant if it really is fresh. As crab meat spoils quickly, always check when the crab was cooked, prepared and dressed and eat it as soon after this date as possible (within a couple of days is best).

    If the dressed crab contains eggs, make sure they’re hard-boiled (find out why in my egg article), and if it has mayo, make sure it’s pasteurized (there’s a mayo article here too).
  • Deviled Crab can either mean a crab mixed with spiced ingredients, or Crab Croquettes, deep-fried in a Spanish style. Both are safe in pregnancy as they are usually fully cooked and served hot. It’s always worth checking that the ingredients (e.g. cream or egg) are fully cooked, too.
  • Crab Bake or Crab Pasta almost always contains cooked crab, so it’s safe to eat when you’re pregnant. If the bake or pasta has creamy sauce, double-check that any milk or cream is pasteurized and that the sauce isn’t thickened with egg yolk, as this may not have been cooked thoroughly enough. On the whole, though, crab bakes and pasta are fine to eat.

If you want more advice on picking good, pregnancy-safe seafood options, you can check out my articles on eating tuna in pregnancy, or explore everything you need to know about eating salmon when you’re pregnant, and also this article on shrimp/prawns, too.