Feta cheese is everywhere: sprinkled on salads, used as a pizza topping, stirred into a dip… the list goes on. All these dishes come under consideration when you’re pregnant, because feta cheese is one of those ‘can I or can’t I’? foods in pregnancy.
Can pregnant women eat feta cheese? Feta cheese is safe to eat in pregnancy if it’s made with pasteurized milk. Cooked feta cheese is safe, even if it’s unpasteurized. Pregnant women should check feta cheese that is directly imported, or when they’re eating it abroad.
Since feta comes in so many forms and recipes, I’ve broken down the most common questions here, including popular ways of eating feta, and which stores or restaurants use pasteurized feta cheese.
Note that ‘feta’ is a protected cheese that is always from Greece. However, you can get ‘feta style’ cheeses from other countries, too. These can be treated the same way as feta for the purposes of pregnancy safety. When I write ‘feta’ in this article it also applies to ‘feta style’ cheeses, also known by other names like ‘Greek-style’ or ‘salad cheese’.
Can I Only Eat Cooked Feta If I’m Pregnant?
Pregnant women don’t necessarily have to stick to feta that has been cooked. Pregnant women can eat ‘uncooked’, straight out of the packet feta, but only if it’s made from pasteurized milk.
This is because feta cheese made from raw, unpasteurized milk carries the risk of cross – contamination with listeria bacteria. This can lead to listeriosis, a foodborne illness that can cause serious complications in pregnancy, including miscarriage (sources: FDA and APA).
This applies to ‘normal’ feta, which is usually a semi-hard or hard cheese (the type you can crumble). If the feta is very soft, then it may be best to avoid it, even if it’s been made with pasteurized milk.
This is because pregnant women should avoid all soft cheeses in pregnancy, as their increased water content means they could also harbor listeria, despite containing pasteurized milk (source: NHS). Soft feta is fairly rare outside of Greece, though.
In Australia, pregnant women are told to avoid feta completely, even if it’s pasteurized (source: Food Standards Australia). However, everywhere else considers that ‘normal’ hard, crumbly feta cheese is safe in pregnancy if it’s made with pasteurized milk.
Cooking feta kills any potential listeria, so if you’re not sure if feta has been pasteurized, or if it’s soft, then cooking it will eliminate the risk of listeria infection if the temperature reaches 165F, or 75C. A good digital food thermometer (here are my recommendations) is needed to check this.
For this reason, baked feta cheese is a good choice for pregnant women if the pasteurization status of the cheese is unclear. More feta dishes and their safety are address later on on this article.
Is Most Feta Pasteurized?
Real feta has a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) from the EU, and it can only be made a certain way in several regions of Greece. There is no stipulation that pasteurized milk should be used, but according to Wikipedia, most producers do use pasteurized milk.
It’s very hard to get hold of feta (or accidentally eat it) if it’s made from unpasteurized milk, but since it does exist, a pregnant mother should check for it. Imported feta is usually pasteurized.
However, if you’re visiting Greece or surrounding countries and you’re eating feta or feta style cheese, you may come across the unpasteurized feta versions as the producers have the option of making it. Feta may also be homemade in an artisan style, from raw milk.
Subsequently, if you’re traveling and eating feta or feta style cheese abroad, it’s safer to only eat it if it’s cooked (such as baked feta) if the producer or restaurant doesn’t know for sure if it’s made from pasteurized milk or not.
Other styles, such as Danish feta or Persian feta may or may not be made using pasteurized milk. There is no hard and fast rule, so always check whether the cheese you’re eating is made from pasteurized milk or not.
Feta Dishes & Their Pregnancy-Safety
Feta appears in many dishes that often are queried as to their pregnancy safety. Remember, feta is safe to eat in pregnancy if it’s thoroughly cooked, and it’s safe uncooked if it’s made from pasteurized milk. That said, here are some common dishes pregnant women ask about:
Eating Feta on a Pizza (as a pizza topping) – this really depends on if the feta is cooked with the rest of the topping, in which case it’s certainly safe.
However, if you think the feta may be unpasteurized, then it’s only safe if cooked and NOT if it’s sprinkled on the pizza towards the end of cooking. Most pizza restaurants will be using pasteurized feta, but check beforehand to be sure.
Feta in tarts, pies or quiche – it’s safe to eat feta in a quiche or a similarly cooked product, as it’s cooked along with the rest of the filling, making it OK for a pregnant mother to eat.
Baked feta or melted feta – both are safe in pregnancy if the feta cheese is cooked until hot, as this kills any type of bacteria. Any cooked or baked feta is safe for pregnant women.
Feta in brine – traditionally, feta is stored in brine as it’s a brined curd cheese. The fact that feta in brine has no bearing on its pregnancy safety. What matters is whether or not the milk it’s made from is pasteurized, as covered above.
Feta in salad (such as Greek salad) – this is safe if the feta is made from pasteurized ingredients. Salads are always safer to make and prep yourself at home where you can wash everything thoroughly.
Bagged salads, or ready-chopped versions (even in restaurants) can be contaminated with harmful bacteria, particularly salmonella or listeria (source: NHS). Eating feta in salad is fine, but safer to prepare yourself.
Feta in a dip – feta dips are fine if the feta is pasteurized, but you should also check for other ingredients, such as mayonnaise, as this should also be made from pasteurized ingredients. You might want to read this guide I wrote to eating mayonnaise in pregnancy if you’re eating foods made with it.
Which Feta Brands Are Pasteurized?
To help pregnant women choose feta only made from pasteurized milk, I’ve looked at popular brands in the USA, UK and Australia and checked if they’re pasteurized or not. The list is below. Bear in mind that recipes and manufacturers can change, so have a look at the label as well.
Feta and feta style-cheeses can be made from cow, sheep or goat milk. The type of milk used has no bearing on its safety – what matters is whether it’s pasteurized or not.
Brands of Feta using Pasteurized Milk in the USA
Dodoni – one of the most popular authentic Greek brands, Dodoni lists their feta cheese as being made with pasteurized milk.
Athenos – they make a huge variety of feta cheese flavors, and their website lists them as being made with pasteurized milk, so they’re safe in pregnancy.
Président – they make feta blocks and crumbles, as well as a variety of other cheeses. I reached out to them and they advised me that their feta products are all made from pasteurized milk. Note that the Valbreso feta brand is also made by Président and use pasteurized sheep’s milk in their feta cheese.
Milbona – producers of a wide variety of feta products, including an authentic PDO from Greece. All are made with pasteurized milk. They’re also for sale in Lidl shops worldwide.
Kraft or Cracker Barrel – Cracker Barrel feta is made with pasteurized ingredients. The brand is owned by Kraft, who have confirmed on their official site that they use pasteurized milk in all their products.
Trader Joe’s – Trader Joe’s feta cheese is made from pasteurized sheep’s milk if it’s the type that is from Greece, or if it’s their “Pastures of Eden” brand that is imported from Isreal. Both are safe to eat in pregnancy as they’re made with pasteurized milk.
Brands of Feta using Pasteurized Milk in the UK and Australia
Meredith Dairy – according to their website, all milk used at the dairy (to make feta and other cheese products) is pasteurized.
UK Supermarkets – Of the labels I checked, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose all use pasteurized milk in their own-label feta cheese. Asda and Morrisons didn’t list this on the label, so it’s unclear.
Creamfields – they produce a small number of feta products, and they’re all made with pasteurized milk.
Apetina – since it’s still not printed on their label, pregnant women still consistently ask: is Apetina feta pasteurized? The good news is that Apetina DO use pasteurized milk in their feta and other dairy products, as confirmed by their customer services rep on Facebook. I’ve posted this below, with personal information redacted.
Odysea – my own personal favorite, it’s an authentic PDO feta from Greece that is made with pasteurized sheep and goat’s milk.
Is Feta In Restaurants Pasteurized?
When you’re pregnant and enjoying a meal out, it can be concerning having to check whether or not the feta cheese a restaurant uses is pasteurized. On the whole, restaurants do use pasteurized feta, though of course, there’s a small chance that a local deli, Greek restaurant or other smaller places may use feta made with raw milk.
Covering every restaurant would be impossible, but here are a few popular chains you may have wondered about:
Is Panera Bread’s feta pasteurized?
Panera Bread is a popular chain serving bakery and cafe-style food. After some searching, I found out that Panera Bread’s feta is made using pasteurized milk, as confirmed on their official Facebook page. I’ve posted this below, with personal information redacted. Therefore pregnant women can safely eat feta at Panera Bread.
This is also confirmed on their Greek salad ingredients, where pasteurized feta is mentioned.
Is Starbucks Feta Pasteurized?
Starbucks may have different sandwiches or lunch items with feta in depending on where you are, and what the season is. Starbucks feta is made with pasteurized milk, according to their ingredients list for one of their popular wraps. Feta cheese at Starbucks is therefore OK in pregnancy.
Help – I accidentally ate feta cheese whilst pregnant!
I can’t count the number of times pregnant women tuck into a salad, sandwich or other dish containing feta cheese than then realize that no checking took place as to whether it was made with pasteurized milk. This, understandably, can cause worry – but don’t panic, since it’s almost certain that you ate feta made of pasteurized milk.
Like I said at the start of this article, unpasteurized milk feta does exist, but it’s extremely hard to come by, even in Greece! Most, if not all cheeses imported to the USA or elsewhere in Europe are made with pasteurized milk, and the same goes for commercially made and branded feta, too.
The best thing you can do is try not to worry, because the odds are on your side, and monitor yourself for any symptoms of listeria, which include: muscular aches, nausea/sickness, diarrhea and/or fever, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Should you feel unwell at all after eating feta cheese, consult a medical professional or health care provider immediately, and tell them what you ate, and when.
Nutrition: Is Feta Good For You in Pregnancy?
Like all cheeses, feta can be high in saturated fat and sodium, but because it’s strongly flavored and is usually crumbled or served with other things (such as in a salad) rather than on its own, the portion sizes are usually smaller. It’s lower in fat than other cheeses like cheddar (source: Nutrition Data).
Feta contains a significant amount of calcium and protein and is a good source of vitamins B12 and B6. It’s high in Phosphorus and Selenium, too (source: Nutrition Data).
Overall, it’s a good choice of cheese in pregnancy compared to other hard cheeses like parmesan or cheddar. Use it sprinkled on meals such as part of nutritious sandwiches, wraps, and salads.
You may also be interested in my pregnant women’s ultimate guide to all types of cheese – it covers a huge number of cheese varieties and their safety in pregnancy, too.