Most Foie Gras Isn’t Safe In Pregnancy: Here’s Why

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Written by Gina Wagg BA, Dip.

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Foie gras is one of those luxurious foods you might be wondering if you can treat yourself to when you’re pregnant. There are many things to look out for if you want to eat foie gras, since most versions of it are not considered safe for pregnant women.

In order to eliminate any risk of listeria, pregnant women should only eat foie gras that is fully cooked or pasteurized. Unfortunately, this excludes many types of foie gras. Bear in mind that in the UK and Australia, pregnant women are advised to avoid all liver products – no matter if it’s cooked or not.

Since the description of how much it’s been cooked is almost always in French, I’ve written this guide on the different ways of serving foie gras and whether they’re safe in pregnancy.

Is Foie Gras Always Cooked?

Foie gras does not always come cooked. In fact, it often comes almost uncooked (pan-fried or seared) or semi-cooked, as these are the most popular ways of serving it. Unfortunately, this is the type of foie gras you need to avoid in pregnancy.

The only type of pregnancy-safe foie gras is the type that has been fully cooked and pasteurized.

So how do you know which type is which, so you can safely eliminate the risk of listeria?

foie gras slices with cranberry

A Guide to Foie Gras Types When You’re Pregnant

Here, I’ve written up a guide to the French description of common types of foie gras. If you’re buying it yourself in a store, or reading a restaurant menu, you’ll know which types to avoid. Sadly, there are quite a few of them that aren’t safe for pregnant women.

Note: This applies to all types of foie gras, whether duck or goose. There is no difference between duck and goose foie gras as far as pregnancy safety goes – how much it’s cooked is what matters. Duck foie gras is labeled ‘De Canard’ and goose foie gras is ‘D’oie’.

Foie Gras That Is Unsafe When Pregnant

Here are the commonly-found types of foie gras that are not pregnancy safe, because they’re not cooked enough in these styles of preparation.

Unlike many other foods, you can’t ask for foie gras to be simply cooked more than usual to make it safe – sadly, it will just melt away due to its high fat content.

Can Pregnant Women Eat Seared foie gras?
Pan-fried foie gras is not safe for pregnant women, as it’s sliced from the whole liver, and is only seared, not cooked all the way through. You cannot request for it to be ‘fully cooked’ or ‘well done’ either, as it would just melt away to nothing. Disappointing, I know!

Canned Foie Gras – if the label says ‘cru’ (raw), ‘frais’ (fresh) or ‘mi-cuit’ (semi-cooked), then it has not been cooked enough to be considered safe to eat in pregnancy. Other words such as entier, bloc and so on are addressed below. They refer to the type of liver used and not how much it’s cooked.

Foie Gras Torchon – torchon means ‘towel’ and refers to the old way of poaching foie gras in a towel or cloth, usually in a cylindrical shape. You can still find foie gras torchon, commonly in restaurants. Unfortunately, it’s not been cooked for a long enough time, or at a high enough temperature, to make it safe for pregnant women to eat.

Foie Gras Mousse – mousse made from foie gras is usually unsuitable for pregnant women. It may also contain other ingredients such as dairy or egg that may also be uncooked.

However, because many foie gras mousse preparations aren’t cooked through at a high temperature, it’s not pregnancy-safe. If it’s shelf-stable, though, it might be safer (see the section on safe foie gras below).

Foie Gras Terrine or Foie Gras Pate – can also be a parfait or galantine. Any fresh terrine or pate (that requires refrigeration) isn’t safe for you to eat if you’re pregnant. This is due to the risk of listeria contamination, plus the fact that terrines and pates are only cooked at very low temperatures to stop the foie gras leeching fat.

Pasteurized versions are safe, and these are covered later on in the ‘safe’ section.

Safe Types of Foie Gras When Pregnant

In the UK and Australia, the recommendation is that all liver products be avoided due to their high Vitamin A content – therefore foie gras is not considered safe at all in these countries.

Otherwise, there is ONE type that is safer to eat in pregnancy. This is Foie Gras en conserve, or preserved foie gras.

Preserved foie gras is easy to spot because usually, it won’t be in a fridge. If you’re buying it online, it shouldn’t be ‘perishable’.

It’s pasteurized, so it’s shelf-stable, and that’s usually where you’ll find it – on store shelves. It sometimes comes in cans (where it might be labeled ‘cuit’, meaning cooked, rather than mi-cuit, which is only semi-cooked).

Most commonly though, it is sold in jars or old kilner-type preservation pots. If it’s not in a fridge, you can presume it’s pasteurized and safe for you to enjoy in pregnancy. It should only be eaten in moderation, though – see the notes on this below.

foie gras seared in garlic butter

Is It Bad to Eat Foie Gras During Pregnancy?

Foie gras means ‘fat liver’ in French, so unsurprisingly, it’s high in fat and cholesterol, both of which you should reduce your intake of in pregnancy. Foie gras is also a good source of selenium and vitamin B12 (source: Nutrition Data).

Most importantly, however, it’s very high in vitamin A – and it’s essential that you monitor your intake of vitamin A in pregnancy. You definitely need vitamin A when you’re pregnant, but too much of it can lead to congenital birth defects. 800 µg (micrograms) per day is a safe recommended dose (source: PMC).

To put that into perspective, 100g of Foie Gras contains 3333 µg (micrograms) of vitamin A (source: FoodStruct); over four times the recommended amount.

Therefore you should limit your intake to small servings, i.e. 20g or so, or a couple of tablespoons, and remain aware of other sources of vitamin A in your diet, especially if you’re also taking supplements. You might be interested in my other article on which foods to avoid in early pregnancy, too.

How To Read Foie Gras Labels

Now that you know you should only eat conserved (en conserve) or cooked (cuit) foie gras found in jars/cans out of the fridge, you might also want to know what you’re looking at when you see foie gras for sale, because it has a lot of classifications according to what it’s composed of:

Entier cru (entier means ‘whole’, as in the whole liver or pieces of liver, and ‘cru’ is raw. This is a whole, raw liver usually found in the refrigerated section of a market or supermarket. It’s not suitable in pregnancy.

Entier frais (whole, fresh) – this is also unsafe in pregnancy, as it’s still a fresh, uncooked or partially cooked whole liver.

Entier mi-cuit (whole, semi-cooked). This is commonly served as “seared foie gras” or “pan-fried foie gras” in restaurants. It’s sliced from the whole liver, then briefly cooked in a pan to sear it and give it a crust, yet the interior remains uncooked or partially cooked. It’s not pregnancy-safe.

Bloc de Foie Gras (‘block’) is not made from whole pieces, but is a blend, often mixed together with a touch of alcohol and formed into a solid piece.

It can be semi-cooked or cooked, so check the label. Only cooked (cuit) is safe when you’re pregnant, and semi-cooked (mi cuit) isn’t. If it says ‘avec morceaux’ this just means it’s ‘with pieces’ of liver mixed in.

Labels that say mousse, terrine, galantine, pate and so on may be made from different things with varying amounts of foie gras in them, but again, you should only choose cooked (cuit), shelf-stable versions as these will be pasteurized.