Pregnant women often ask me about whether duck is safe during pregnancy, not just because it’s poultry but because it comes in so many different forms.
Duck is safe during pregnancy if it’s fully cooked, rather than rare to medium. Duck terrine, pate, and similar dishes should be avoided when pregnant. Duck eggs are safe in pregnancy if they are fully cooked, with a hard yolk.
If you’re wondering about specific duck dishes before you tuck in during your pregnancy, I’ve put together a list of the most common ones here.
Is Cooked Duck Safe During Pregnancy?
Duck is safe for pregnant women to eat if it’s fully cooked. But what does ‘fully cooked’ actually mean? Here’s an explanation of the different cuts of duck, and what to look out for.
Duck Breast During Pregnancy
With duck breast or duck steaks, you have to be a little more careful during pregnancy as duck breast is usually served rare to medium (what the French call rosé). Unfortunately, pink duck isn’t suitable for pregnant women.
This is due to the risk of bacteria such as salmonella or, more commonly, campylobacter (source: BFR). Both are killed by heat – i.e. thorough cooking, and many people already know not to eat undercooked chicken. However, undercooked duck is quite common.
If you’re in a European-style restaurant, bistro or other fine dining establishment, it’s likely any duck breast dish won’t be cooked enough unless you request otherwise (for more on this, I wrote a guide to fine dining and what to ask for in restaurants when you’re pregnant).
The FDA advises that if you’re pregnant, you should treat duck the same way as chicken, and cook it all the way through (source: FDA). This means it has to reach an internal temperature of 165F (74c). For comparison, “pink” duck – the way it’s usually served – is usually only cooked to about 125F / 52c.
The only reliable way to measure this is with a food thermometer – my recommended ones are here.
The same advice is also given in the UK (source: FSA) because the bacteria Campylobacter is common in duck. In a 2005 study, it was found in almost 50% of duck tested. Fully cooked duck reaches a temperature that kills campylobacter, but undercooked duck may not.
Australians are also advised not to eat undercooked meat (source: Australian Food Authority) for the same reasons.
Smoked Duck Breast may be cold smoked, in which case it’s not safe during pregnancy as it’s not cooked at the same time, and the temperatures during the cold smoking process aren’t high enough to kill bacteria.
Cold smoked duck is quite easy to spot as it’s usually still pink/purple in color, indicating it’s only been smoked, but not cooked. “Duck ham” or “duck prosciutto” is also not cooked, and therefore not safe for pregnant women.
Hot smoked duck is safe during pregnancy if it’s been smoked at a higher temperature (again, this should be 165F / 74c or above). Sometimes this is possible as high heat is used to render the duck fat and make it crispy, but check first if you haven’t done the smoking yourself. Hot smoked duck should be greyish and opaque in color.
So does this mean that most duck is off the menu for pregnant women? Not at all! Happily, a lot of the tastiest duck dishes are pregnancy-safe.
Crispy Duck and Spring Rolls
Because duck is so versatile, it appears in lots of dishes, cooked in different ways. I’ve detailed them here in relation to pregnancy safety.
Two popular preparations of duck are crispy duck (sometimes called Peking Duck) or duck spring rolls. Both are common at Chinese restaurants and other Asian-style food outlets.
Crispy Duck is safe during pregnancy as it’s fully cooked (which is how the skin gets so crispy). Duck spring rolls often have crispy duck in them, and are also safe during pregnancy as the duck is usually cooked when it goes in the roll, and it’s deep-fried as well before serving.
If you’re eating leftover crispy duck or spring rolls, just make sure that it’s reheated until steaming hot and it should be fine to eat if you’re pregnant.
Other duck dishes like duck legs (e.g. confit, which is slow-cooked) are also fully cooked and are therefore safe during pregnancy.
Duck Terrine and Duck Pate (Duck Liver Pate)
Pregnant women should avoid duck pâté (all types, not just that made from the liver) and also avoid duck terrine or mousses. The risk of contamination with listeria is mich higher in these types of products (source: FDA).
Tip: There’s a complete guide to why you should avoid pate during pregnancy here, with much more information.
Another dish that should be avoided during pregnancy is foie gras made with duck livers. There’s a guide to why foie gras isn’t safe in pregnancy here, including the one type that is safer during pregnancy, and how to read the labels so you know what you’re getting.
Are Duck Eggs Safe For Pregnant Women?
They’re nowhere near as popular (or as common) as hens’ eggs but I still get asked about duck eggs from time to time.
Duck eggs are safe during pregnancy if they are fully cooked all the way through, with a hard, opaque yolk.
If you’re pregnant, you should avoid:
- Soft boiled (“runny”) duck eggs
- Fried duck egg with a runny yolk (like a sunny side up or over easy egg)
- Poached duck egg
Much of the same pregnancy guidance for hens’ eggs applies to duck eggs, so if you’re a fan of eggs (and they’re a great pregnancy food!) and want loads more information on everything eggs, you might be interested in my complete guide to eggs while pregnant.
Bear in mind that duck eggs take longer to cook because of their size, with an average cook time of around 9-10 minutes for a hard-boiled duck egg.
The good news is that duck eggs are higher in protein than hens’ eggs, so they’re still very good for you if you eat them fully cooked.
A Note on Bombay Duck
Finally, I’ll quickly address Bombay duck here – since it’s called “duck”, even though it isn’t a duck at all.
Bombay duck is a dried lizardfish, often found in India and Bangladesh. It goes by a few names, including “Bummalo”, “Bombil” or “Lottiya”. It’s often sprinkled over curries or to add flavor to a dish.
Bombay duck is usually safe during pregnancy as the fish is dried and salted, and can only be imported from approved packing stations.
If you’re eating Bombay duck during pregnancy, be mindful of the source – a salmonella scare in the mid-90s led to more regulations on who could produce, pack and sell the product within the EU (source: Wikipedia).
Always check that your Bombay duck is from an approved supplier.