Luxury food doesn’t have to be off the menu just because you’re pregnant. Although seafood like scallops needs a little more care and attention during pregnancy, it’s fairly easy to make scallops safe in pregnancy by ensuring you cook them properly.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Scallops? All types of scallops are safe in pregnancy, as long as they’re fully cooked. It’s very easy to undercook scallops, so some cooking methods are better than others during pregnancy.
In this article, I’ll explain how to cook scallops if you’re pregnant, tips for the different types and what to look for when buying them, too.
When Are Scallops Unsafe for Pregnant Women?
Pregnant women should avoid undercooked or raw seafood, due to the risk of parasitic or bacterial contamination (source: NHS). All types of fish and shellfish – which includes scallops – should be fully cooked all the way through.
This means that you should avoid the following dishes during pregnancy:
- Scallop ceviche – because the scallop is only ‘cured’ in acid such as citrus juice, rather than being properly cooked using heat
- Scallop tartare – this is merely minced, prepared and seasoned raw scallops, which aren’t cooked
- Scallop sashimi – this is raw scallop and should be avoided
Cooking scallops will usually kill any parasites, bacteria or other harmful pathogens, making them safe to eat in pregnancy.
What’s the Mercury Level of Scallops?
Scallops have some of the lowest recorded mercury levels of all types of seafood.
Studies conducted by the FDA show that scallops averaged an extremely low mercury level of 0.003PPM (parts per million), which was the lowest of all seafood types tested (source: FDA).
This applies to all types of scallops, including bay scallops and sea scallops, and all other types used for food. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, scallops are also classified as having ‘low’ mercury across the board, including all species (source: EDF).
This means it’s safe to eat scallops throughout pregnancy, without concerns about their levels of mercury.
How to Cook Scallops To Make Them Safe In Pregnancy
Scallops are absolutely delicious when they’re cooked properly, and the most popular way of doing this is to pan-sear or pan fry them.
Scallops are a little tricky because, unlike fish, there’s not much of a visual clue to when they’re done. Their white color makes it particularly difficult to check for ‘doneness’ but when you get the hang of it, you can not only cook scallops to make them safe in pregnancy but make them perfectly seared on the outside and tender on the inside.
How to Pan-Sear Scallops to make them Pregnancy-Safe
Here’s Sam The Cooking Guy with his really useful guide on cooking the perfect scallop. He uses sea scallops in this example, which are the big ones (often called jumbo scallops).
This is how I cook mine at home, and it makes them safe in pregnancy, too:
Tips for Buying and Cooking Scallops During pregnancy:
- As with any fish or seafood, the fresher the better. Choose scallops that are still pearly white, with no fishy smell or any yellowing or browning, if you’re seeing them fresh in (or out of) the shell. They should look firm and dry, not soft, mushy or wet.
- Not all frozen and fresh scallops are created equal! Some have added water or brine, to pump up the weight. This will ooze out of them as they cook, like a white slime (lovely). It makes it harder to sear them properly, too. Although it’s not unsafe, it indicates a poorer quality scallop. Look for “dry” or “dry-packed” on the label – these don’t have added water.
- If you’re defrosting frozen scallops, ensure they’re defrosted thoroughly (overnight in the refrigerator usually does the trick). Don’t defrost them at room temperature, as they will spoil. Quicker ways, like under running water, don’t always defrost the very center.
- Bring the scallops to room temperature before cooking them. Taking them out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before cooking should achieve this, without risking them turning bad. Freezing cold scallops won’t be done in the middle when they’re seared on the outside. This particularly applies when you’re defrosting them (as above)
- Remember the bigger the scallop, the longer the cooking time. Bay scallops and smaller ones will take much less time than jumbo or sea scallops.
- If you’re able to measure temperature accurately with a food thermometer (my recommended one is here), then your pan should get to 450F / 232c for searing, and the center of the scallop should reach 130f / 55c on the second flip.
The safe cooking temperature for seafood is actually 145f / 63C, but the scallop continues to cook when it’s taken off the heat source, and should finish at the 145 mark. Even though you have to make the scallop cooked enough for pregnancy safety, nobody likes an overcooked, rubbery scallop!
- If you’re cooking a batch of scallops for people who aren’t pregnant, then the recommended cooking temperature is slightly lower. 115F / 46c is ideal when taking them off the heat, for people who are not pregnant (source: Cooks Illustrated). Ones cooked for pregnant women should be allowed to get up to the 130F mark and continue to increase as described above.
- When you get the hang of cooking scallops you’ll notice that they slowly turn a more solid, opaque white color as they cook. Uncooked scallops are slightly greyer and are more translucent. It might need some practice to spot this. When the ‘white’ color has traveled halfway up the scallop from the sear, then it’s time to flip it and let the color turn fully white throughout.
- A good way to check if a scallop is done is to cut the biggest one in half and see if it’s white all the way through – there should be no jellyish, greyer, more translucent flesh in the center.
- You can take scallops off the heat and serve as soon as the color has changed throughout – any longer and you’ll get an overcooked scallop which, although safe in pregnancy, won’t taste as good!
- Because searing, grilling or pan-frying scallops is a precise, to-the-minute cooking technique, you might find it easier during pregnancy to bake or roast scallops instead, where they are cooked evenly in the heat of the oven.
- For baked scallops, bay scallops need about 20 minutes at 400f (200c) and sea scallops 15-20 at 425 (220c) depending on size. Check for ‘doneness’ as you would a pan-fried scallop, described above.
Sea Scallops v Bay Scallops in Pregnancy: Is There a Difference?
Pregnant women can safely eat bay scallops or sea scallops – the difference between them is size.
Bay are small, and sea are larger. Sea scallops will take longer to cook as they are thicker and meatier.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Scallop Roe?
Occasionally you’ll get scallops served with their roe intact (the comma-shaped orange part attached to the scallop).
Scallop roe is fine to eat in pregnancy, so long as it’s fully cooked, like the scallop itself.
Eating Scallops in Restaurants When You’re Pregnant
Be aware that many chefs err on the side of underdone rather than overdone when it comes to scallop cooking, and they’re sometimes served closer to rare or medium-rare.
While this is usually fine for non-pregnant diners, you’ll need to make a special request when eating in a restaurant that you’d like your scallops to be fully cooked all the way through. Any good chef will understand this and hopefully not overdo the scallops!
For more tips on eating out, you can also read this guide to eating out in restaurants and fine dining during pregnancy.
I Ate an Undercooked Scallop When Pregnant – Should I Worry?
If you think you’ve eaten an undercooked scallop, then the most important thing is not to panic. you’re more than likely going to be fine. Eating fully cooked scallops is to reduce an already low risk in pregnancy.
Adopt a ‘watch and wait’ approach and see if you have any symptoms out of the ordinary that aren’t normal for your pregnancy. These include increased nausea, fever, temperature, or diarrhea. If in any doubt at all, contact your health professional, telling them what you ate, and when.
The risk of food poisoning from scallops that are seared or otherwise cooked are rare, so try not to worry, and be vigilant for any symptoms. You can continue to enjoy scallops during pregnancy, so long as they’re fully cooked next time.
Scallops are often served with shrimp, so you might also be interested in this article on shrimp and prawn safety in pregnancy.
Seafood lovers may also want to check this article on whether lobster is safe, all about eating crab when you’re pregnant, and a guide to clams and clam chowder, too. You can find plenty of other meat and seafood guides here.