New as of 2024: The Food Standards Agency in the UK has now updated its advice. Cold-smoked, uncooked salmon is now considered a higher listeria risk in Britain, as it is already in the USA and other countries. Read on for the latest information.
Smoked salmon is one of the trickiest foods to classify for safety in pregnancy. The web is full of conflicting information and, until recently, the advice varied from country to country.
I decided to put together a complete guide on whether pregnant women should eat smoked salmon, and in what form.
Pregnant women can safely eat “hot-smoked” salmon as the fish is cooked during the smoking process. “Cold-smoked” salmon in pregnancy can be eaten if it’s shelf-stable, or fully cooked, but the advice differs in some country. “Ready to eat” cold smoked salmon should be avoided unless it can be heated until it’s steaming hot. In all cases, quantity guidelines for salmon should be followed.
Smoked salmon takes many forms, and it’s important to analyze what kind of smoked salmon you’re eating if you’re pregnant.
Here, I’ll explore each type and examples of where you might find and eat different types of smoked salmon.
Note that this article is only about smoked salmon. If you want to know about regular, unsmoked salmon, then you might be interested in this article I wrote, covering all aspects of pregnancy and eating salmon.
Is Hot Smoked Salmon Safe In Pregnancy?
Hot smoked salmon is safe for pregnant women to eat, whether fresh, frozen or canned.
This is because the salmon is smoked at a temperature high enough to cook the fish thoroughly during the smoking process (source: USDA).
Hot smoked salmon is opaque and should be labeled “hot-smoked”. If it’s home-smoked, the smoking temperature should have been above 160F / 71C for part of the smoking process.
Is Canned Smoked Salmon OK When Pregnant?
Canned smoked salmon, usually found on supermarket or shop shelves, is safe to eat in pregnancy. This is because the canning process requires pasteurization, or heat treatment at temperatures that kill bacteria (source: Science Direct).
The only rare exception would be if the tin is refrigerated in the shop or store (similar to fresh crab meat) which would suggest that it is not pasteurized.
Cold Smoked Salmon Safety During Pregnancy
It’s important to distinguish between two main types of cold-smoked salmon. Shelf stable, and refrigerated, “ready to eat” types. The latter is far more common.
Shelf-Stable Cold Smoked Salmon in Pregnancy
Shelf-stable smoked salmon is usually safe for pregnant women. However, in the UK, the Food Standards Agency recommends that pregnant women avoid ALL cold-smoked salmon unless it can be heated/cooked until steaming hot.
“Shelf stable” is a food storage term used to describe ‘ambient’ goods, i.e. those presented on the shelf at room/shop temperature. This type of salmon is usually vacuum sealed in a box and is NOT refrigerated in the shop or store.
If the salmon is in a fridge when it’s sold and needs to be kept that way, then it’s not “shelf stable”. Shelf-stable goods usually need refrigeration only after they have been opened.
Avoid any smoked salmon, of any type, that has been improperly stored. Even if shelf-stable smoked salmon is deemed ‘safe’, it’s still susceptible to developing listeria if not refrigerated properly and eaten well within its use-by date (source: Virginia Tech).
Refrigerated “Ready to Eat” Smoked Salmon During Pregnancy
Now, let’s talk about the more common type – the ready-to-eat, refrigerated smoked salmon. This can come whole, or sliced, and is the type found in salads, sandwiches, bagels and many more places. It looks like the image below.
In the USA, the Food and Drug Administration advises pregnant women not to eat cold-smoked salmon (source: FDA). The UK’s Food Standards Agency now agree with this (as of 2024). Following an ongoing outbreak of listeria, followed by a review, they advise pregnant women to avoid all cold-smoked salmon that cannot be heated until steaming hot. You can read more about their decision here.
This is the type of smoked salmon found refrigerated in delicatessens or supermarkets, whether packaged or not.
Pregnant women should avoid cold-smoked, ready-to-eat salmon unless it’s cooked. This is due to both the risk of infection from parasitic worms that may be present in fish that has not previously been frozen and also cross-contamination or poor storage which may cause listeria.
Cold-smoked salmon that carries the same risk may also be labeled as:
- Smoked salmon candy
- Smoked salmon jerky
- Kippered salmon
- Nova lox
- Nova style
Many of these types of salmon are cured, but not cooked, so are still unsuitable for pregnant women.
Other common dishes you might come across that often contain cold-smoked (and potentially unsafe) smoked salmon are:
– In a bagel with cream cheese
– as part of an eggs benedict ‘royale’ (which is also unsafe due to the egg in Hollandaise sauce)
-On blinis or toasts as canapes or nibbles
-in salads, sandwiches, and wraps (often with cream cheese)
-on some pizzas where it is added late in the cooking process
-On top of sushi or as sashimi
However, if the cold-smoked salmon product is cooked through, for example, in a stew or casserole, then it is considered safe to eat.
Smoked Salmon Pâté When Pregnant
Also, exercise caution with smoked salmon spreads, dips or cream cheese flavors as this may contain unpasteurized ingredients and/or cold-smoked salmon pieces, all of which are unsuitable for pregnant women.
Smoked Salmon Sushi During Pregnancy
Sushi with smoked salmon in it should be viewed in the same way as any other slice of smoked salmon – if it’s cold-smoked and not cooked, it should be avoided.
However, a roll containing hot smoked salmon which has been cooked thoroughly would be a safe option to eat in pregnancy, provided it hadn’t been mixed with other ingredients that may be unpasteurized, like mayonnaise.
If you want to eat sushi safely during pregnancy, check our our ultimate guide to sushi – including a safe sushi list.
How Much Smoked Salmon Can I Eat Whilst Pregnant?
Although pregnant women are advised to eat fish regularly, pregnant women should not eat oily fish more than a couple of times a week, and this includes smoked salmon.
This is both due to a risk of mercury build-up and the potential for ingesting dioxins or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) which have been found in farmed fish (source: NHS).
The concentration is usually higher in the fatty parts of the fish, which aren’t always used to produce smoked salmon.
For more on PCBs and other toxins that may be in salmon, you may want to read this article I wrote about how safe salmon is for pregnant women.
Smoked salmon is high in protein and contains a number of B vitamins as well as vitamin D (source: USDA).
However, the smoking process means that it’s high in salt/sodium, so should be eaten in moderation. An average portion of smoked salmon is about 40g, or about 2oz.
Oily fish is an important source of omega 3, which is essential in pregnancy, but there are probably healthier options for oily fish in pregnancy such as mackerel, herring, unsmoked salmon or trout.
Overall, it might be better to have smoked salmon perhaps once a week, and choose a different oily fish for your other weekly option.
I’m Pregnant and Ate Smoked Salmon by Accident – What Should I Do?
It’s worth reiterating that the risk of either a parasitic infection or listeria from smoked salmon is low, so don’t panic!
Foodborne illnesses usually show symptoms one to three days after eating the contaminated food (source: FDA).
If it’s been longer than this, and you feel fine, then it’s likely that the smoked salmon was not contaminated.
In rare circumstances, you may feel ill faster – within half an hour, or it may take up to six weeks for any sort of sickness to develop.
Food poisoning can often be confused with other similar problems (such as morning sickness) but if you have:
after eating smoked salmon then consult your doctor or healthcare provider straight away. Let them know what you ate, and when. It’s always better to be on the safe side.