Is Pate Safe When Pregnant? Why You Can’t Eat It & Risks

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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In almost every country, pregnant women are advised to avoid eating pâté. What’s not often talked about is why you should avoid it when you’re pregnant, what the true risk of listeria contamination is, and if all types of pâté are definitely off the menu.

Most types of pâté are not safe during pregnancy, due to the risk of listeria, even if the pâté is cooked. This applies to all types of meat, vegetable and fish pâtés or fresh spreads. However, pâté that is canned, tinned or in a shelf-stable jar is safe for pregnant women to eat.

In this article, I’ve clarified the advice on different types of pâté and give examples of the pâté that IS safe to enjoy during your pregnancy.

I’ll refer to ‘pâté’ throughout, but the same applies to:

  • Rillettes
  • Fish or meat spreads
  • “Potted” meat, fish or vegetables
  • Fresh savory mousses
  • Terrines

Why Can’t Pregnant Women Eat Pâté? What Happens If You Do?

No matter where you live, chances are that the local government advice is to avoid pâté. Yes, that’s even the case in France, where women are also told to avoid pâté, rillettes, and similar spreads (source: French Ministry of Health).

The advice to avoid pâté is the same in the USA (source: US Government), the UK (source: NHS) and Australia and New Zealand (source: Food Standards of Australia).

In the UK, pregnant women are told to avoid liver products altogether, and not just pate (source: NHS).

The potential risks involved in pâté consumption don’t always come from the ingredients, but the way it’s made and stored. Sterilized pâté (which we’ll come to later) is safe during pregnancy.

Pregnant women should avoid pâté because it’s one of the foods with a higher risk of contamination. Listeria can survive and grow under refrigeration and tends to prefer high moisture, low acidity conditions (source: PubMed).

This is what makes pâté a perfect product for listeria to grow in, and is why it’s best avoided during pregnancy.

The Journal of Food Protection reported a Spanish study in the year 2000 where 182 samples of fish pâté were analyzed, and around 5% tested positive for listeria (source: JFP).

I’m sometimes asked if pâté can cause miscarriage. Pâté itself does not directly cause miscarriage, but it’s a food with a higher risk of listeria – and it’s listeriosis that can cause miscarriage.

What Should I do If I’ve Accidentally Eaten Pâté and I’m Pregnant?

If you accidentally eat pâté during pregnancy, the first thing is don’t panic, because there’s nothing in pâté that is necessarily dangerous. The medical advice not to eat it is there to reduce an already low risk of contracting listeriosis from contaminated pâté.

The best thing you can do is adopt a ‘watch and wait’ approach and look out for any symptoms that are out of the ordinary for your particular pregnancy.

pate spread on toast

Listeriosis tends to produce symptoms approximately 1-4 weeks after eating a contaminated product, though it can be longer (source: CDC).

These include fever and flu-like symptoms, so if you experience these then contact a medical professional straight away.

For the remainder of your pregnancy, you should avoid pâté and similar products, or stick to pregnancy-safe versions (covered below).

Can I Eat Cooked or Baked Pâté?

Most pâtés are cooked but are almost always served cold, which is part of the reason why they’re not always safe to eat.

Listeria tends to grow in products that have to be kept under refrigeration, even when cooked. Their longer shelf life gives bacteria more time to grow.

Cooking and heat kills listeria bacteria, but it’s the storage time when cold – not the cooking – that presents most of the risk with pâté.

It’s very uncommon to eat freshly cooked, still hot pâté as it usually needs time to set. However, if it’s literally straight out of the oven, it will be safe to eat as the heat will have killed any harmful bacteria present, and won’t have had time to grow.

Be aware that pate is sometimes cooked at very low temperatures, or in a water bath, or via sous vide methods. This may mean that the internal temperature reached isn’t high enough to kill bacteria. Listeria is killed at 150f / 65c (source: European Food Safety Authority) but many pâtés are cooked at temperatures lower than this.

Unless you’re both making the pâté yourself and you’re prepared to eat it hot after it’s reached an internal temperature of 150 f / 65c, then it’s best avoided – or choose a pasteurized or sterilized pâté.

Common Pâté Types to Avoid in Pregnancy

One of the most confusing things about being told to avoid pate is that a lot of pregnant women presume that it has something to do with the ingredients. This isn’t the case, and pregnant women should also avoid vegetarian or even vegan pâté, for example.

To make things more clear, if the pâté, spread, terrine, rillette, or other similar product is fresh and under refrigeration, then you should avoid it during pregnancy no matter what it’s made from. This includes:

  • Liver pâté (including duck, chicken or goose) – there’s a separate article on the pregnancy safety of foie gras here, too
  • Any fish pâté (e.g. salmon, mackerel, trout, crab, whether smoked or not). You can find a separate guide to smoked salmon here, and there’s one here for trout.
  • Vegan or vegetarian pâté (mushroom, vegetable, cheese or any other type) has the same calculated risk as meat-based pâté as it’s made the same way.
  • Homemade pâté – the risk is the same as factory-made.
  • Pâté with regional or specific names should be treated the same way and avoided (e.g. Brussels pate, Ardennes, etc.)

Safe Pâté During Pregnancy

What often gets overlooked is that there’s more than one way of storing and preserving pâté, and there’s one type of pâté that is safe – and that’s the shelf-stable kind.

“Shelf-stable Pâté” means that the pate has been canned, jarred or tinned and is usually sterilized or pasteurized. It’s found ‘on the shelf’ rather than under refrigeration.

This type of pate is pregnancy safe (source: CDC). This advice is seconded by the American Pregnancy Association and other similar organizations (source: APA). However, it’s still not recommended in the UK, and Australian guidance says to avoid ALL pate, too (source: PBB).

Here’s a picture to illustrate what I mean – this is a huge selection of shelf-stable pate and foie gras I saw in a Spanish supermarket. All of these would be pregnancy-safe as they’re not under refrigeration and therefore pasteurized or sterilized.

canned pate on a shelf

Remember though that once opened, you still have to store this pate in the fridge and eat it within a couple of days.

Also, if you eat liver pate, be aware that it may be very high in vitamin A. Although you need vitamin A during pregnancy, it’s one of the vitamins that you should avoid excessive amounts of, as it may be harmful (source: NHS).

If you’re on any type of supplement, or eat a lot of food high in vitamin A or retinol, then you should limit your consumption of liver-based pâté, even if it’s the safe type.

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