Ricotta is so versatile, it appears in dozens of dishes and is also widely eaten on its own. It can be salted, smoked and sweet, so it doesn’t just fall into one easy category when you want to eat it during pregnancy. I’ve dived deeper into all types of ricotta in this article, to see which types are safe.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Ricotta? Ricotta is safe in pregnancy if it’s commercially manufactured from pasteurized milk. Homemade, artisan and other varieties may need to be double-checked. Cooking or baking ricotta makes it safe to eat in pregnancy.
There is one problem: different advice is given to pregnant women in different countries. To save you reading endless labels and deconstructing every dish with ricotta in, I’ve broken down all the ways of eating ricotta safely in pregnancy and what your country’s food safety advice is, whether you’re cooking it yourself or eating out.
Ricotta and Pregnancy: Guidelines by Country
One of the frustrating things about eating ricotta in pregnancy is that the national food authorities of each country sometimes disagree with each other.
Here’s what they say:
- USA – the FDA says that you can eat ricotta if it’s made with pasteurized milk (source: FDA), and the American Pregnancy Association says non-imported (i.e. domestically made), pasteurized milk cheeses are OK (source: APA)
- Canada – doesn’t specifically name ricotta but it’s usually grouped with cottage cheese or curds, in which case they say it’s fine if made with pasteurized milk (source: Canada.ca)
- UK – The National Health Service says it’s OK for pregnant women to eat ricotta if it’s made from pasteurized milk (source: NHS)
- Australia – The NSW Food Authority says pregnant women should NOT eat ricotta unless it’s cooked to a minimum temperature of 75c (165F) (source: NSWFA)
- New Zealand – the advice is that women should not generally eat ricotta unless it’s cooked, but you could eat it “in small quantities” right out of the packaging, but not if it’s been repackaged (Source: NZ Gov)
Out of curiosity, I checked what the advice was in Italy as well, since it’s the home of ricotta. There, they say ricotta is fine in pregnancy if made with pasteurized milk (source: GOL).
Since the “safe if pasteurized” advice seems to be the clear majority, I would follow that in pregnancy. If you’re Australian and want to adhere to your own government guidelines, then cook the ricotta first.
No matter which country you’re in, unpasteurized, raw milk ricotta should be avoided in pregnancy due to the risk of listeria contamination (1).
The only way to make unpasteurized ricotta safe is to cook it or heat it until hot, which is usually 165F / 74C. You can accurately measure this with a food thermometer (here’s the one I use).
If you want to be super, super safe, you could stick to only eating ricotta when it’s cooked – no matter where you live. It’s not a huge hardship as Ricotta usually appears cooked in recipes anyway, besides desserts (more on this later).
Is Ricotta Cheese Always Made with Pasteurized Milk?
Since much of the pregnancy advice says to only eat ricotta if it’s made with pasteurized milk, you’ll probably be wondering if there’s such a thing as raw, unpasteurized ricotta, so you can avoid it.
Commercially manufactured ricotta is almost always made with pasteurized milk. That is, factory-produced branded ricotta that is store-bought or in supermarkets.
This applies in many countries including the USA, UK, some parts of Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
In the USA and Australia, regulations prevent the manufacture of ricotta without using pasteurized milk, so any commercial brand sold there should be pasteurized. A list of brands is given later in this article.
Is Ricotta Pasteurized in Italy?
If you’re on vacation or if you live in Italy, be aware that the sale and distribution of raw, unpasteurized milk are perfectly legal there.
This doesn’t mean that the ricotta in Italy is necessarily made with unpasteurized milk, just that it might be. Always ask first if you’re unsure, and when eating at restaurants.
Raw milk cheeses are more common when bought from small, artisan makers or from farms or farm shops. If buying from a source like this, then always check if the milk is pasteurized or not.
If the ricotta is cooked until it’s hot (approximately 165 f / 74 c) then it’s safe to eat in pregnancy, regardless of whether it’s pasteurized or not.
What about Buffalo / Cow / Sheep / Goat Ricotta?
It doesn’t matter which animal’s milk is used to make ricotta. Nor does it matter what the ratio of whey to milk is (traditionally, in Europe it has more whey, but in the USA in particular, it’s made with more milk).
Ricotta can be made from many types of milk – it’s the pasteurization that counts.
Is Ricotta a Soft Cheese?
Pregnant women are often aware that they have to avoid “soft” cheeses.
Ricotta can be classed as a soft or semi-soft cheese depending on how it’s produced (e.g. smoked, or with salt) and how long the cheese has been aged. Aged ricotta tends to be firmer, and is probably more semi-soft than soft.
Since ricotta isn’t mold-ripened, you can still eat fresh, soft-textured ricotta when you’re pregnant, if it’s made from pasteurized milk.
Due to ricotta’s high water content, it’s best eaten as fresh as possible, or as soon as possible after opening it. See the “fresh vs cooked” discussion later on in this article for more tips on eating and storing ricotta safely.
Which Ricotta Brands are Pregnancy Safe?
To save you trailing around reading labels (who needs that when you’re pregnant?), here are some common brands sold in the USA and Europe that are made with pasteurized milk, so are safe in pregnancy:
- Any own-brand or store brand e.g. 365, Tesco, Waitrose, Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Sainsbury’s, ASDA etc.
- Organic Valley
There will be lots of other brands available, depending on where you live, so check the label. It will either mention pasteurized milk, or say “pasteurized whey”.
Fresh v Cooked Ricotta: Which is Safest in Pregnancy?
Generally speaking, Ricotta should be safe if it’s made from pasteurized milk. However, ricotta is a very perishable product. Cooking ricotta will kill listeria and other bacterial pathogens, so this is theoretically the ‘safest’ way of eating it.
This doesn’t mean it’s “unsafe” to eat ricotta fresh, such as when it’s whipped into a dessert, but it needs to be eaten quickly and stored properly.
In 1999 a study published in the Journal of Dairy Science found that the longer fresh ricotta was stored, the more likely it was to be contaminated with bacteria (even under refrigeration). Fresh ricotta’s high water content also makes it particularly susceptible to contamination (source: Science Direct).
What does this mean for you when you’re pregnant? Some tips are:
- Eat fresh ricotta soon after making it (if it’s homemade, from pasteurized milk)
- If you’ve bought it, choose ricotta that isn’t nearing its expiry date and eat it as soon as possible after opening it.
- Wrap and store ricotta securely, and make sure your fridge is kept at a suitably low temperature (my guide to culinary thermometers discusses this in detail).
- If in doubt, throw it out – if ricotta looks, tastes or smells like it may have gone bad, it’s best to throw it out and start afresh, even if you’re cooking with it.
- Cooking ricotta until it reaches a temperature of 165F / 74C will kill any pathogens like listeria. These temperatures are easily reached when cooking or baking with ricotta.
Ricotta Types, Dishes & Their Pregnancy Safety
If you want to check if your favorite ricotta dish is pregnancy safe, I’ve listed some here, to remove any doubts before you tuck in!
- Homemade ricotta – is safe if it’s made with pasteurized milk, as it almost always is. If you’re buying ricotta that is farm-made or from a small, artisan producer, particularly in Europe, ask if it’s made with pasteurized milk.
- Ricotta ravioli – the ricotta is usually cooked as the ravioli boils, so as long as it’s steaming hot when served, it should be fine when you’re pregnant. The same goes for any type of ricotta with pasta.
- Ricotta Lasagne – as the lasagne is usually baked, it’s fine to have ricotta in a lasagne. If heating leftovers, make sure it’s heated until hot.
- Ricotta and spinach – this is often a ravioli or lasagne filling, so the same ‘heated until hot’ guideline applies. Spinach is good for you, too!
- Baked or cooked ricotta – of any type, whether on its own or in a recipe, is safe when you’re pregnant, if it’s heated until hot.
- Ricotta cheesecake – this can be a gray area because ricotta appears in both baked cheesecakes (which are usually safe) and set cheesecakes (which are sometimes unsafe as they’re made with raw eggs). For an in-depth look at which cheesecakes are safe, read this article on eating cheesecake in pregnancy.
- Ricotta pancakes – are usually safe when you’re pregnant as the ricotta is cooked in the batter.
- Whipped or sweetened ricotta – such as found in cannoli fillings, are only safe if the ricotta is made with pasteurized milk. As this is an uncooked dessert, be sure to check this first.
- Ricotta Salata – should be treated the same way as regular ricotta, as far as pregnancy safety goes. “Salata” means salted, so the resulting ricotta is more firm and savory than other types. It can be grated or crumbled.
- Smoked ricotta should be treated the same way as ordinary ricotta. The smoking process usually doesn’t “cook” the cheese as it’s often cold-smoked, so follow these guidelines as you would with regular ricotta.
- Aged ricotta has a firmer texture, but the same guidelines on eating aged ricotta that has been made with pasteurized milk is just the same.
This article is an in-depth look at one of the many kinds of cheese on my ultimate list of cheeses and their safety in pregnancy. Check it out if you’re a cheese lover.