Ceviche is one of the most confusing foods when it comes to pregnancy safety. Most pregnant women know that raw fish is off the menu, but ceviche is referred to as cured or “cooked” by acid. So is it safe when you’re pregnant?
Pregnant women shouldn’t eat ceviche because it contains raw fish, which might harbor bacteria or parasites that cause food poisoning. A pregnant woman’s immune system is dampened during pregnancy, and food poisoning can make her sicker than usual and risk her baby’s health and life.
The rest of this post will provide an in-depth explanation of why pregnant women shouldn’t eat ceviche, despite it being “acid cooked” or cured. I’ll also cover the exception to these guidelines, and what to do if you’ve already eaten ceviche during your pregnancy.
Why You Can’t Eat Ceviche When Pregnant
Ceviche is a popular Peruvian fish dish consisting of raw fish soaked in a lemon or lime juice marinade. The acidic marinade denatures the protein in the fish, causing it to become firm and look opaque. Contrary to how it’s sometimes described, citric acid does not “cook” the fish enough to make it safe for pregnant women.
While the acidic marinade cures the fish, it doesn’t take care of one problematic Ceviche ingredient: raw fish. Raw fish may contain parasites and bacteria, as outlined below.
Common parasites present in raw fish:
- Liver flukes
Bacterial strains found in raw fish:
These microorganisms are not only potentially harmful to your unborn baby, but they can also affect your health.
- Pregnant women are immunocompromised, making you more vulnerable to infection and putting you at risk of being ill with food poisoning for longer. Food poisoning can affect your unborn baby’s health as well. (source: Stanford Medical School).
- You’re at a higher risk of Listeria. The CDC states that pregnant women are ten times more likely to get a Listeria infection than the general population. Listeriosis can cause a miscarriage, stillbirth, or preterm labor (source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Given these risks, many governments advise expectant mothers against eating ceviche. Some go to the extent of urging pregnant people to avoid raw seafood altogether.
Here are a few examples:
- The National Health Service in the UK recommends that pregnant women avoid raw shellfish (source: NHS).
- The Australian government’s Department of Health advises pregnant women against eating uncooked seafood (source: Australian Government Department of Health).
- The Canadian government goes a step further, stating that pregnant women should avoid all kinds of raw seafood (source: Government of Canada).
Fish vs. Shrimp: Does the Type of Fish Used to Make Ceviche Matter?
If you’re a pregnant ceviche-lover, you might wonder whether it matters what kind of fish you use to prepare this tasty dish. Are some varieties of fish safer than others? Does it make a difference if you use sole, bass, shrimp, or scallops?
The type of fish used to make the ceviche doesn’t matter. All kinds of fish and shellfish (including shrimp) pose health risks for pregnant women and unborn children unless cooked at the right temperature.
What’s more, some types of fish are more dangerous even when cooked. That’s because they contain high levels of mercury, which can be dangerous to your baby. Examples of such fish include (source: FDA):
What Should I Do If I’ve Eaten Ceviche During Pregnancy?
If you’re reading this article after accidentally eating ceviche, you might wonder what will happen. Is there anything you can do if you’ve accidentally eaten ceviche while pregnant?
If you’ve eaten ceviche during pregnancy, it’s best to monitor yourself closely for signs of food poisoning, and if you’re worried or are showing any symptoms of food poisoning, let your OB-GYN know that you’ve consumed raw fish.
Here are the most common warning signs for food poisoning:
If you notice any of these signs, contact your OB-GYN as soon as possible for advice about what to do. If you can’t get hold of them, and you’re feeling very ill, go to an urgent care center or emergency room.
Can I Eat Cooked Ceviche During Pregnancy?
I’ve explained the dangers of eating ceviche during pregnancy, but what if you have an intense craving for it? Is cooked ceviche an option during pregnancy?
You can eat cooked ceviche during pregnancy as long as it’s been cooked correctly. If you’re using finned fish, it should be cooked until it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C). When using lobster, scallops, crab, and shrimp, cook it until it looks opaque and white.
FoodSafety.gov recommends cooking seafood dishes thoroughly to kill any bacteria or parasites. For fish with fins, that means cooking until it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C). You can use a meat thermometer to check your fish’s temperature.
Lobster, scallops, crab, and shrimp must be cooked until the flesh looks opaque, pearly, and white. If you include mussels, clams, or oysters in your ceviche, you should cook it until the shells open (source: FoodSafety.gov).
When preparing cooked ceviche, avoid fish with high mercury content. Excellent fish choices for pregnant women include:
These fish types contain very little mercury and are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, essential for your baby’s brain development.
Let’s look at other things to keep in mind when cooking ceviche for expectant mothers.
Ceviche Cooking Tips for Pregnant Women
When preparing a fish dish using frozen seafood, avoid thawing it at room temperature because bacteria can quickly multiply in such conditions. Thawing your frozen seafood in the refrigerator, cold water, or microwave is safer. If you’re marinating seafood for ceviche, do that in the refrigerator to prevent bacterial growth (source: CDC).
You should also never use the same chopping board for different kinds of uncooked meat or seafood, as it can cross-contaminate food with bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Always sanitize your chopping boards with bleach after preparing raw meat or seafood.
If you like buying fish locally, it’s worth checking the fish advisories in your area for any warnings. Otherwise, you should limit locally-bought fish consumption to 6 ounces (170 grams) per week (source: Mayo Clinic).
It’s also worth noting that ceviche gets its telltale acidic taste from the lime or lemon juice marinade, which can be pasteurized or unpasteurized. The unpasteurized version is unsafe for consumption during pregnancy, as it can contain bacteria such as E.coli and cause food poisoning (source: FoodSafety.gov).
If you want to eat cooked ceviche while pregnant, choose pasteurized lemon or lime juice for the marinade. Alternatively, use unpasteurized or freshly-squeezed citrus juice, but boil it for at least one minute to kill any bacteria or parasites. Once you’ve found a safe and pasteurized marinade, cook the seafood thoroughly.
When it’s time to add the vegetables, carefully consider these as well. If you suffer from gestational indigestion, you might want to leave out the chili peppers and onions. Try to include a variety of vegetables, as they’re full of the vitamins you need for yourself and your baby (source: John Muir Health).
Here is a pregnancy-friendly recipe for ceviche from The Palate Pursuit :
Ceviche is a popular fish appetizer and snack, and it can be disappointing for pregnant women when they find out they shouldn’t eat it.
However, it’s refreshing to know that there is a safe option to consider if you’re pregnant – so if you’re craving ceviche, use fish cooked with heat, not acid, and get creative with the marinade.