Pork and ham products are both a holiday dinner and a cultural staple for many families. From pork sausage to carved ham and slow-cooked pork tenderloin, there’s nearly endless variety.
Along with this variety comes a few important considerations to keep in mind while pregnant to help keep you and baby safe.
Pork is safe to eat while pregnant if it has been thoroughly cooked or heated to 165°F/75°C. This temperature applies to pork products that are traditionally served cold as well, such as cured charcuterie, pork pies, and deli pork.
Just like ham, the advice surrounding pork can be wildly confusing and oftentimes conflicting.
I’ll give you the breakdown of the different types of pork and their safety in this complete guide to pork.
Is Cooked Pork Safe for Pregnant Women?
Many pregnant women (and those who cook for them!) are familiar with the need to cook poultry, like chicken and turkey, to an internal temperature of 165°F/75°C in order to prevent foodborne illnesses (source: FDA).
During pregnancy, however, this standard applies to all meats, including pork which should be cooked to 165°F/75°C before eating. Once cooked to 165°F/75°C, pork is perfectly safe for pregnant women to enjoy.
While non-pregnant individuals are able to eat pork cooked to only 145°F with a 3-minute rest-time after cooking, pregnant women have a lower immune system and are at a higher risk for getting ill from bacteria in food (source: CDC).
Undercooked, or pork that is still pink-hued, can have active bacteria and other organisms which cause foodborne illness.
The most common pork-related bacterial infections are Salmonella, E. Coli, Staph aureus, and Listeria (source: USDA).
The severity of the foodborne illnesses caused by these organisms can vary, but Listeria carries the most cause for concern since a Listeria infection can cause serious harm to an unborn baby (Source: Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology).
The other foodborne illness concern when it comes to pork is trichinosis.
Trichinosis is caused by the trichinella worm larvae, a parasite that can live in pork meats.
Eating pork contaminated with the trichinella worm larvae causes an infection that can lead to abdominal pain and upset, chills, muscle aches, a headache, and swelling of the eyes (source: Cleveland Clinic).
While this sounds – and can be – serious, rest assured that trichinosis is rare nowadays, averaging fewer than 20 isolated cases per year nationally in the United States (source: CDC).
The best way to prevent any type of foodborne illness from pork? Make sure the meat is cooked thoroughly to 165°F/75°C before enjoying it.
Since pork needs to be cooked to 165°F/75°C for safety, knowing the temperature of the meat you’re about to eat is important.
When cooking at home, the best way to tell if the pork is cooked thoroughly is with a food-grade thermometer. See our recommendations for the best culinary thermometers here.
When dining out, ask your server to ensure the pork is at least “well done” which is typically a minimum of 160°F (source: National Pork Board). A well-done piece of pork should be off-white, uniform in color, and opaque.
As a helpful guide, below are a few common cuts of pork and the cooking time needed to reach a safe internal temperature of 165°F/75°C if starting with meat fresh out of the refrigerator.
If you’re starting with frozen pork, additional time will need to be added for thawing/defrosting prior to cooking. More details on specific pork-containing dishes are provided in a later section of this article.
- Boneless Roast: 20-30 minutes per pound roasted at 350°F
- Pork Chops: 7-8 minutes for ¾ inch thick chops
- Braised Pork: 10-25 minutes
- Pork Belly: varies based on size, cut, and cooking method
- Pork Tenderloin: 20-30 minutes roasted at 425-450°F
Remember, these times are here to guide you, but it’s best to double-check the doneness of all meats by using a culinary thermometer.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Reheated Pork? (Cold Cuts)
Sometimes leftovers happen, especially with large cuts of meat such as pork roast or an entire pork shoulder.
Not only are leftovers tasty, but they’re a good solution for busy days and are economical. But is reheating pork safe during pregnancy?
Like with all meats and refrigerated leftovers, cold pork should be heated to 165°F/75°C before eating.
This guideline includes leftover pork dishes stored in the refrigerator, cold roasted pork, sliced ham such as what’s used for sandwiches, and cold cuts.
Tip: For more information on ham, including deli ham or cold cuts, head over to our article dedicated to safely enjoying ham during pregnancy.
Pork roll, often endearingly called “Taylor ham” by New Jersey residents after the famous pork roll creator, is a processed meat product.
Pork roll can be eaten either cold or hot, and is often served pan-fried. Before cooking, pork roll shares a similar texture to bologna, and once fried, pork roll looks similar to Canadian bacon.
It seems this eastern US seaboard staple is a pregnancy craving for many women. Luckily for the women craving pork roll, if served “steaming hot” at the familiar 165°F/75°C, pork roll is safe to eat while pregnant.
Is Pork Good During Pregnancy? Is It Healthy?
Because pork comes in a large variety of cuts and can be cooked using many different methods, the nutrition breakdown varies accordingly.
No matter if you like to enjoy it slow-roasted, pan-seared, or as a carved ham, pork is a good source of protein, zinc, selenium, iron, and vitamins B1, B3, B6, and B12 (source: National Pork Board).
Vitamin B12, iron, and zinc are especially important during pregnancy.
While vitamin B12 plays a role in making new DNA for the growth and development of your baby, iron and zinc are known to help prevent preterm birth (sources: American Pregnancy Association, Cochrane Library).
Many women of childbearing age are also thought to be zinc deficient, and this deficiency in zinc can even prolong labor (source: Cochrane Library).
Pork also has other beneficial components, such as its collagen, gelatin, and glycine content.
Some research suggests that collagen and it’s “cousin” gelatin are effective in reducing joint aches and pains, a common pregnancy woe (source: Current Medical Research and Opinion). For more collagen information, check out our collagen and pregnancy article here.
Glycine is an amino acid, or protein building-block, and is not an essential part of the diet for healthy, non-pregnant adults.
Recently, however, scientists determined that glycine is indispensable during later pregnancy.
Women who don’t consume adequate glycine during later pregnancy weren’t able to make enough proteins, which is an essential part of keeping baby healthy and growing in utero (source: Journal of Nutrition).
Some cuts of pork can be high in fat, and marinades used in the cooking process may be high in sodium.
If you’ve been told by your medical care team to avoid either of these, then choose cuts from the loin or rib chop, which tend to be leaner (source: Meat Science).
With these nutritional benefits in mind, (well-cooked) pork can be a healthy addition to your pregnancy diet.
Can I Eat Pork in Early Pregnancy?
The first trimester is a special time for many women, having only recently discovered they are pregnant! Along with the joys of newfound pregnancy comes a few considerations to keep you and baby safe.
When it comes to food safety, the main concern during early pregnancy is a foodborne illness caused by bacteria.
Illness from bacteria-infected pork has 2 different causes: raw or undercooked meats and cold, deli-style meats.
As I mentioned above, all pork products should be served “steaming hot” and cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F/75°C. This is especially important during early pregnancy as a bacterial infection can be harmful to the baby.
Properly prepared pork can be beneficial in early pregnancy. Though the benefit of glycine doesn’t come in to play until later trimesters, getting adequate protein is important for women in all stages of pregnancy, including the first trimester.
Pork’s high vitamin B12 content is a particular benefit in the first trimester, as the baby is growing very rapidly, a process that requires a great deal of vitamin B12.
Can I Eat Pulled Pork (Including Smoked or BBQ) When Pregnant?
Whether you’re a fan of Montreal brisket, Carolina-style, or (my favorite) Memphis-style BBQ, smoked and BBQ meats, including pork, may be one of the most confusing topics when it comes to nutrition during pregnancy.
For a great in-depth breakdown of BBQ and smoked meats, check out our entire article dedicated to the topic.
BBQ and smoked meats differ from grilled meats in 1 main way: the time and temperature used to cook. BBQ and smoked meats are cooked low and slow, whereas grilled meats are cooked quickly, at a high temperature.
Because BBQ and smoked pulled pork are cooked at a low temperature for longer periods of time, they don’t have the same harmful polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) present in grilled meats (source: Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology).
If cooked thoroughly and eaten “steaming hot,” both BBQ and smoked pulled pork are safe to enjoy while pregnant. This also extends to BBQ-style pork, cooked at home in a slow-cooker/crockpot.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Pork Skin or Rinds?
Pork rinds, also called pork scratchings or chicharrones, are a very commonly craved food during pregnancy.
The reasoning behind food cravings during pregnancy isn’t clear, but for women craving the salty crunch of pork rinds, it’s reported that salty foods are craved more often during later gestation.
Cravings for salty foods like pork rinds are experienced by women who don’t have food cravings outside of pregnancy, say, during menstrual cycles, for example (source: Frontiers in Psychology).
Since pork rinds are fried in hot oil, with temperatures averaging between 350-375°F, the pork skin is heated to a high enough temperature to kill off any possible bacteria.
Commercially-prepared pork rinds, such as the kinds you find in the chip/snack aisle, also have a very low water content, which prevents bacteria from growing and making you sick.
Because of this low water content, pork rinds don’t need to be eaten “steaming hot” in order to be safe (source: University of Wisconsin Extension).
Overall, while we’re not yet sure why they are craved, pork rinds are safe to eat right out of the bag during pregnancy.
Can I Eat Cured, Pickled or Vinegared Pork During Pregnancy?
Iberico pork, prosciutto, and other cured pork items make for a mouthwatering charcuterie display. The problem with charcuterie? Temperature.
Because cured pork meats are often eaten cold, there’s no chance for bacteria to be killed off by the heat used in cooking.
Heating prosciutto or other cured meats is the only way to ensure safety. For details on how long to heat and details on hot cured pork dishes check out our deli meat article.
Bacon is another cured pork product and the same principle of heating thoroughly applies here too. For more information on bacon, read our bacon article.
Can I Eat Pork Sausage or Ground Pork When Pregnant?
Pork-containing sausages as a popular cultural food for many families, especially those of eastern European descent. Whether in patties, links, or ground sausage the important thing to remember is, you guessed it, temperature.
As we discussed in our article on sausage, eating sausage during pregnancy is perfectly safe so long as the sausage is cooked thoroughly to prevent Listeria contamination.
The standard 165°F/75°C temperature applies here too, so grab your thermometer and fry up a nice Polish sausage (or any kind you like)!
Eating Other Pork Dishes and Products During Pregnancy
Pork is a popular ingredient in many dishes. The following are a few commonly queried pork dishes and their safety during pregnancy:
Liver, from any animal, is high in vitamin A. While this may sound like a good thing, too much vitamin A is toxic and can cause birth defects.
You DO need vitamin A during pregnancy, but it’s also unsafe to have too much. Just 3 ounces of liver has more than 15,000 international units of vitamin A!
Due to the extremely high vitamin A content, pork liver should be avoided while pregnant, or eaten in extremely small quantities.
Pork Dumplings or Sweet and Sour Pork
Pork dumplings and sweet-and-sour pork are two different Asian-style pork dishes.
Because pork dumplings are a “stuffed” dish, where ground pork is the filling for the dumpling, it is imperative that the center of the dumpling reach 165°F/75°C to ensure safety.
Both dishes should be cooked thoroughly before eating, but are perfectly safe if served hot.
Though pork pies are a popular dish, in the UK at least, this dish may not be the best choice while pregnant. Since pork pies are traditionally served at room temperature or even chilled, there is a higher risk for bacterial infection.
The basic ingredients in a pork pie are safe during pregnancy though, so to make this dish pregnancy-safe heat until 165°F/75°C.
Overall, pork is versatile, delicious, and a great source of protein, B-vitamins, zinc, and iron, all of which support a healthy pregnancy.
To ensure safety and keep both you and baby free from foodborne infection, only eat pork that has been thoroughly cooked to a minimum of 165°F/75°C and steer clear of pork liver, as it contains toxic amounts of vitamin A.
All-in-all, pork can be a nutritious and safe part of your diet during pregnancy.
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