When you think about pregnancy food safety, it often refers to fresh products like meat or fish. Dried and preserved meat is rarely mentioned in guidance for pregnant women, but jerky and other dried meats are common snacks and cravings – so are they safe in pregnancy?
Can Pregnant Women Eat Jerky and Dried Meat? Pregnant women should avoid eating jerky and other dried meats, as they are not fully cooked or heat-treated. Smoking and drying meat only reduces the chance of bacterial contamination but doesn’t eliminate it.
I know that jerky is a pretty common pregnancy craving, so I was surprised to see how little information there was on whether pregnant women could safely eat it. For this article, I researched scientific studies and evidence-backed sources about dried meat and pregnancy.
Why Can’t I Eat Jerky During Pregnancy?
I know how disappointing it is in pregnancy to learn that you might not be able to enjoy some of your favorite foods for nine months!
Rather than just saying ‘avoid that’, the aim of this article is to help pregnant women know why, with science-backed information, so that you feel better about avoiding a small but significant risk during your pregnancy.
Pregnant women should avoid jerky because jerky is a product where the meat usually isn’t cooked.
Heat and cooking temperatures above 165F / 74C are the best prevention against bacteria that can be present in raw meat, such as Toxoplasma gondii (which causes toxoplasmosis), or salmonella (source: USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service).
Salmonella, and particularly listeriosis and Toxoplasmosis from dried or cured meat like jerky can affect pregnant women far more seriously than an ‘average’ healthy adult and can cause severe complications, including miscarriage (source: Journal of Food Protection).
An Australian study in 2008 pointed out that jerky can be salted, marinated, dried or smoked, but none of these methods are as effective as heat at killing bacteria that can be found in ready-to-eat foods like jerky.
Commercially made jerky is, of course, classified as safe for consumption, or else it wouldn’t be on our shelves for sale. However, the reason you have to avoid jerky and dried meat when you’re pregnant is the same as avoiding deli meat and similar foods (unless they are heated).
In 2003 the USDA’s FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) found that smaller producers of jerky “may not be processing jerky well enough to destroy the pathogens necessary to produce a safe product” (source: FSIS).
A study conducted for Georgia University also found that beef jerky that relies solely on smoking and drying to kill bacteria “may not be as safe as previously thought” (source: Semantic Scholar).
The upshot of this is that jerky is complicated to make and requires several precise steps to ensure its safety because it’s not cooked. Although it’s safe to eat jerky in general, for those who are immunocompromised or pregnant, it is better to avoid dried meat and jerky.
If you really want to eat jerky, then treat it the same way as deli meat, by heating it until hot, not just warm… but I appreciate that it may not be as pleasant when it’s hot! For more on this, read the full guide to deli meat and pregnancy here.
Official & Medical Advice on Eating Jerky in Pregnancy:
Some of the more trusted sources that specifically give advice on pregnancy and jerky are:
- The University of Michigan’s Medical site specifically tells pregnant women to avoid “dried meats such as beef jerky” due to the risk of toxoplasmosis (source: University of Michigan).
- The FDA’s official pregnancy advice also says to avoid smoked seafood jerky such as salmon jerky (source: FDA).
- The New Zealand Government Advice states not to eat jerky unless it’s ‘cooked until piping hot, over 70c (source: NZ Food Authority)
- The Australian government give similar advice about ‘processed meat’ (which is what jerky can be defined as) (source: NSW Food Authority)
Can I Eat Homemade Jerky When Pregnant?
Some pregnancy food advice depends on whether something is commercially-made, store-bought, or homemade.
Store-bought jerky should be avoided when pregnant, as well as homemade jerky. In fact, you should be particularly careful to avoid homemade jerky, because constant safe temperatures and times are difficult to get right if you’re not experienced.
The USDA produced a special publication about Jerky and Food Safety. If you make or eat homemade jerky, I’d definitely recommend reading it, as it covers what makes jerky safe or not – even if you’re not pregnant.
The publication includes much of the scientific background discussed in this article. They reiterate the importance of heating the meat until bacteria are killed.
It also makes the point that maintaining safe temperatures during the drying process is also important and that many instruction booklets that come with home dehydrators or smokers don’t specify temperatures that make food safe, either.
Can I Eat Biltong, Bresaola or other Dried Meat When Pregnant?
This article mostly refers to jerky, but the recommendations are the same for all dried meats, not just common ones like beef jerky.
Pregnant women should also avoid similar products that are dried rather than cooked, such as:
- Turkey Jerky
- Chicken Jerky
- Pork Jerky
- Fish Jerky
- Any Game Jerky (e.g. deer, venison)
- Jerky-style products like Slim Jims, sticks or dried sausage
- Dried Beef Slices (such as Hormel’s) when not cooked
- Chipped Beef (when not fully cooked) – see below
In conclusion, all types of jerky should be avoided when you’re pregnant if they are not cooked. Chipped Beef is slightly different – addressed below.
Can I Eat Chipped Beef When I’m Pregnant?
Chipped Beef is a dried meat product, but the difference is it’s usually not eaten on its own, but fully cooked, e.g. creamed chipped beef on toast.
The fact that the meat is heated to a high temperature before serving greatly reduces the risk of any bacteria surviving in it. Therefore you can eat chipped beef during pregnancy if it’s fully heated and cooked. It shouldn’t be eaten cold, ‘as is’, without cooking.
If you’re able to measure the temperature (and the best way is with a food thermometer), then the temperature should reach 165F / 74C to make it safe.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Dry Aged Beef?
I’ve been asked if ‘Dry Aged’ beef is safe in pregnancy, as it’s often confused with air-dried or regular dried beef.
‘Dry aged’ refers to hanging raw meat (usually beef) in a climate-controlled environment for a certain number of days to improve the flavor and texture. Dry Aged meat isn’t the same as ‘dried meat’ or ‘dried beef’.
Generally, dry-aged meat is then cooked as normal, particularly if its a steak cut such as sirloin, striploin or tenderloin. You can also get ‘wet aged’ meat that is aged in vacuum-sealed bags.
If you’re pregnant, you should follow this guidance on eating steak when you’re pregnant as it doesn’t matter whether the beef is dry-aged or not – what matters is how much it’s cooked when you come to eat it.
If you’re interested in eating beef and other meat safely during pregnancy, you may also like:
- A full guide on eating and ordering steak when you’re pregnant
- Whether roast beef or corned beef are pregnancy-safe
- A pregnant woman’s guide to smoked, grilled and BBQ meat
- Everything you’d want to know about eating sausages when pregnant
- An ultimate guide to deli meat during pregnancy
- A guide to eating ham and bacon, too.