Can Pregnant Women Eat Prosciutto? Is it Safe?

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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As is the case with salami, chorizo, and pepperoni, prosciutto is not a cooked meat. It has been cured and fermented, and therefore there’s a small risk of it being unsafe for pregnant women.

Prosciutto is not safe for pregnant women unless it’s cooked or heated. Heating prosciutto kills potentially harmful bacteria, such as those that cause listeriosis or toxoplasmosis.

There are instances where you CAN eat prosciutto and we’ll look at them here.

Dishes with cooked prosciutto can be very tasty, and this article will cover some of the best ones that you can enjoy while pregnant, so you can still enjoy your prosciutto safely.

Is Prosciutto Safe During Pregnancy?

Any kind of cold uncooked prosciutto – no matter what it’s called – is not safe to eat during pregnancy due to the potential risk of listeria or other bacterial contamination.

Cold, cooked prosciutto should be fine if it was thoroughly heated or crisped up and eaten soon after it cools.

Types of Prosciutto Pregnant Women Should Know About

It’s worth knowing the different types of prosciutto and whether they are cooked or not, as this has a bearing on whether you can eat them safely in pregnancy.

Prosciutto usually refers to prosciutto crudo (‘crudo’ meaning ‘raw’, and ‘prosciutto’ meaning ‘thoroughly dried’). Prosciutto crudo may look cooked because it has been cured, but it is unsafe to eat ‘as is’.

You usually find cold prosciutto crudo sliced thinly and served in appetizers such as prosciutto slices with melon or figs, in sandwiches, or in Caprese salad with basil and mozzarella cheese, or as part of a deli platter.

prosciutto crudo slices

Parma ham is another name for prosciutto that has been produced in the Parma region of Italy.

The name ‘parma ham’ is protected by the European Union’s Designation of Origin label and technically can only be used for prosciutto produced in that region of Italy.

The other main type of prosciutto is called prosciutto cotto, or cotto salami, which is similar to regular cooked ham. As with other deli meats, cotto needs to be heated up in order to make it safe to eat.

You may also come across another type of prosciutto called culatello, which is made from a smaller cut of the pig’s thigh and has been cured with wine which gives it a deeper color red.

Culatello is not often found in the US, but you may come across it on your travels or if you live in Europe.

Why Can’t Pregnant Women Eat Prosciutto Crudo?

Prosciutto crudo is not safe for pregnant women to eat because cured meats aren’t cooked, so they carry a risk of transmitting parasites which can cause either listeria or toxoplasmosis.

In one study examining the levels of listeria bacteria in cured meats, listeria was found to be one of the most prevalent types of bacteria – from 17 to 36% (Source: MDPI).

Listeria can cause many pregnancy complications, including miscarriage (Source: CDC).

Toxoplasmosis can be contracted from cured meats, cat litter, and soil, and can have serious health consequences for both you and your unborn child (Source: CDC).

However, not all proscuitto is off the menu during pregnancy – there are ways of eating it safely, such as cooking it.

deli paninis

Is Cooked or Crispy Prosciutto Safe When Pregnant?

As with other deli meats, cooked prosciutto is safe to eat when pregnant provided it has been cooked to the right temperature.

Cured pork such as prosciutto should be cooked to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71C), and it should be cooked all the way through, in order to be safe.

If you don’t have a reliable food thermometer (some recommended ones are here), then this is often called ‘steaming hot’ – so you have a visual cue as to how hot it needs to be.

Once cooked, prosciutto should not be left at room temperature for any longer than 2 hours (Source: FDA).

You’ll be happy to know that crispy prosciutto falls into the safe category, as it is typically baked at high temperatures.

Can I eat Cold Packaged Prosciutto During Pregnancy?

You might think that pre-packaged prosciutto is safe to eat straight from the packet as it has been sealed for freshness, but this isn’t the concern – the meat is still not cooked and is unsafe to eat while pregnant.

Whether you get your cold prosciutto from your local deli, your supermarket, or from the local Italian grocer that you love, you still need to cook it thoroughly before eating it.

asparagus wrapped in crispy cooked prosciutto

Safe Ways of Enjoying Prosciutto When Pregnant

Here are some examples of delicious, pregnancy-safe dishes that you can enjoy with cooked or crispy prosciutto:

Crunchy prosciutto crisps – baked till crispy and eaten like fries as they are, or sprinkled on salads, soups, pasta, eggs, baked potatoes, and other dishes (think bacon but better!)

Prosciutto on pizza – just make sure it is cooked till steaming hot, as some pizza places put warm or cold prosciutto slices on top of a pizza after cooking. Check with the restaurant before ordering. For more on pizza toppings, there’s a complete guide for you here.

Prosciutto as a veggie or fish wrapping – you can wrap prosciutto around asparagus, green beans, artichokes, scallops, or fish fillets and then pop everything under the broiler till the prosciutto is crispy.

Prosciutto on kebabs – alternate pieces of prosciutto with veggies, meat, or a mixture before cooking.

Deep-fried prosciutto – these extra salty and fried bits of meat might not be the healthiest option, but they add a delicious flavor to cooked veggies, risottos and salads. They’re also great sprinkled on winter soups.

Help! I Accidentally Ate Raw Prosciutto When Pregnant

If you’ve eaten prosciutto without knowing that it should be cooked, you’ll understandably be concerned. However, there’s no need to panic – the risk is very small.

While foodborne illness is a possibility from cured meat, it is still relatively rare because the salt and other processes used do still inhibit bacterial growth.

Bacteria like water, and salt, by drawing out most of the water, inhibits microbial growth (Source: NCHFP).

In Italy, for example, where cured meats are often eaten, the expected rate of infection in adults is approximately one per 20,000 portions of fresh meat (Source: WileyLibrary).

The highest instances of listeria in cured meat, for example, tend to occur during the commercialization process or while using it at home (Source: MDPI). Many contamination issues are stopped before the meat ever reaches the consumer.

If you have eaten prosciutto and you are concerned, try a ‘watchful waiting’ approach as recommended by the CDC. Rest and drink extra water and fluids (Source: CDC).

Remember, the odds are on your side, and it’s very unlikely that you will get sick from eating prosciutto. In the unlikely event that you do, you can get treatment quickly.

The common symptoms to look for are vomiting, stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and a fever (Source: CDC).

If you have any concerns, or if you have more severe symptoms, check with your medical professional straight away.

In conclusion – you now know that cold prosciutto is not safe to eat when you’re pregnant, but that you can enjoy its delicious salty flavor by cooking it thoroughly.

Hopefully, our list of recipe ideas has inspired you to enjoy prosciutto in a healthy and tasty new way!

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