Is Cotija Cheese Safe During Pregnancy?

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Written by Amy Kaczor RDN

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Cotija cheese is a cow’s milk cheese named after a city in Mexico. It is commonly used in dishes such as tacos, salads, and more. Is this aged and tangy cheese safe to eat during your pregnancy?

Cotija cheese is safe to eat during pregnancy if it is store-bought and explicitly states in the ingredients that it is made from pasteurized milk. Avoid cotija cheese that is made with unpasteurized milk.

Let’s dive deeper into the information you need to know about eating soft cheeses, including cotija, during your pregnancy. 

Is It Safe to Eat Cotija Cheese When Pregnant?

Due to the increased risk of listeria in soft cheese that is produced from unpasteurized milk, many varieties of cotija cheese should be avoided during pregnancy. 

Cotija is commonly used to add flavor to Mexican dishes, including elote street corn, soups, tacos, salads, and more. However, during pregnancy, you might want to skip it if it isn’t made from pasteurized milk.

grated cotija cheese on a cutting board

Is Cotija Cheese Pasteurized? 

Many cotija cheese varieties are pasteurized, but others are not. Eating unpasteurized cheeses during pregnancy makes you more susceptible to listeria infection. 

Listeria can increase the risk of premature birth, stillbirth, miscarriage, and more (source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA]). Consuming both aged and fresh cotija cheese made with unpasteurized milk comes with a high risk for listeria infection in pregnant women. 

Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to high temperatures in order to kill listeria and other pathogens, making it safer for pregnant women to consume. Pregnant women should avoid all unpasteurized products, including milk, cheese, and fruit juices. 

If you are looking for a safe cotija cheese to consume while pregnant, choose one that clearly states it is made with pasteurized milk. 

Do not eat this cheese when dining out because you cannot be sure if it is pasteurized without looking at the packaging.

Many brands found in the United States are pasteurized, such as Del Pasado and Cacique. However, it is crucial to always check the packaging and ingredients list to make sure. 

It is traditionally made from unpasteurized milk, so varieties that are made outside the U.S. are more likely to be unpasteurized.

If the label is in Spanish – as it often is for varieties that are produced in Mexico – be on the cautious side and do not consume the product if you aren’t able to read the label.

Can I Eat Cooked Cotija Cheese During Pregnancy? 

Since unpasteurized cheese needs to be cooked to very high temperatures to kill listeria, it is best to avoid unpasteurized cotija cheese, even if it is cooked. 

Elote or Mexican grilled corn on the cob served with cotija cheese and chili powder

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that pregnant women avoid unpasteurized cheeses. There is no available guideline that designates a temperature to cook unpasteurized cheese products to make them safe for consumption during pregnancy. 

It’s also difficult to judge whether unpasteurized cheese has been cooked at sufficiently high heat and for enough time to completely eliminate any harmful bacteria. 

Therefore, it is best to simply avoid unpasteurized cotija cheese during your pregnancy. 

You should also avoid a cotija variety called queso cotija since it is typically unpasteurized. Other soft cheeses like queso fresco, feta, brie, and Camembert should also be avoided during pregnancy (source: FDA). 

In addition to soft cheese that is clearly labeled “pasteurized”, we recommend hard cheese, cream cheese, processed cheese, or mozzarella. These are usually pasteurized and safe for pregnant women to consume. 

In conclusion, I hope you found this article helpful in breaking down the safety recommendations regarding cotija cheese, as well as other cheeses made from unpasteurized milk.