Food safety is a great concern during pregnancy. It is generally known that what a pregnant mother eats may potentially lead to adverse health outcomes for her and her unborn baby. Deli meats are one of those foods that pregnant women are being warned against eating.
Salami, in particular, should be avoided as much as possible during pregnancy. This is to prevent food-borne illnesses that may come from consumption of this deli meat.
This article will tackle deli meats and their possible harmful effects among pregnant women. It will discuss food-borne infections from raw or undercooked meat. Finally, it will show some tips on how to avoid these food-related infections.
Deli Meat Explained
Deli meats are cured or smoked meats that are sliced for sandwiches or served as cold cuts. There are three main types:
- Whole Cut – the meat was cooked then sliced
- Sectioned – sections of meat were bonded into one single piece of meat
- Processed – same as sectioned meats, but also include meat byproducts
Salami is a deli meat of the sectioned variety. It is made from chunks of meat that were cured and combined with seasonings until they become hardened. Salami can be made from pork, beef or veal.
NHS, United Kingdom’s biggest health website, cautions pregnant women against eating cold cured meats. These include salami, pepperoni, chorizo and prosciutto, unless they are cooked thoroughly. Cured meats are not cooked, so they can have disease-causing pathogens in them.
Their website also recommends that raw or undercooked meats should be avoided entirely, as well as liver and liver products, all types of pâté (even vegetarian pâté), and game meats like goose, partridge and pheasant. Liver products contain high levels of Vitamin A, which is harmful to the unborn baby, while game meats may contain lead shot (www.nhs.uk).
Deli meats are associated with a number of food-borne illnesses:
These infections are usually a problem with cold-cut sandwiches, pre-packaged meats and cut-to-order meats. Contaminated slicing boards and knives, as well as poor hygiene practices from vendors, amplify the risk from intake of these types of food.
Listeriosis is an infection caused by Listeria monocytogenes. Food can be contaminated with Listeria if it is grown in contaminated soil, or if meat came from an animal that was given contaminated feeds. Salami, and other deli meats, are one of the most common sources of food-borne Listeria.
Symptoms of pregnant women who are infected with Listeriosis include fever, spontaneous abortion, premature delivery and stillbirth. However, it is also common for pregnant women to be asymptomatic despite the infection, and may become undiagnosed, especially during the first trimester of pregnancy which may lead to early abortion. Most cases of Listeriosis occur among healthy pregnant women, but those with comorbid illnesses are at increased risk of infection (Filipello et al., 2017).
According to Kirkham (2010), Listeriosis causes more than two thousand serious illnesses and five hundred deaths in the Unites States every year. It is also 17 times more likely to occur among pregnant women compared to the general population. Two-thirds of surviving infants of mothers who developed this infection will have Neonatal listeriosis, with syndromes of pneumonia, sepsis and meningitis. Overall case-fatality rate with this infection is relatively high, with 20 to 30 deaths per 100 cases of illness.
Salmonellosis is a food-borne infection with the pathogen Salmonella. Pregnant women are not at increased risk for this condition compared to the non-pregnant population, but bacteremia is estimated to occur in about 4% of cases. This may lead to intrauterine sepsis and endanger the unborn fetus. Symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea (Tam et al., 2010).
Salmonellosis can also cause blood in the stool or urine (making urine dark or tea-colored) of pregnant women. Symptoms generally develop from 12 hours up to 3 days of consuming contaminated foods.
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii. There is high prevalence reported among pregnant women from all over the world. Pregnant women with this infection have the potential to transmit it to their fetus and cause Congenital toxoplasmosis (Amin et al., 2013).
In the United Arab Emirates, the estimated prevalence of Congenital toxoplasmosis is 12 for every 10,000 live births. Congenital toxoplasmosis is rare, but can cause serious harm to an infant, such as spontaneous abortion, microcephaly, hydrocephalus, seizures, mental retardation and chorioretinitis (Amin et al., 2013), which may lead to blindness. The congenital form can result in life-long disability (Hussain et al., 2017).
The most significant risk factor for Toxoplasmosis is consumption of raw or undercooked meat. A multi-center European study by Cook et al. in 2000 identified the risk factors for this disease. These include intake of the following foods:
- Raw sausage consumed at least once a week
- Dry, cured meat consumed more than once a week
- Salami consumed more than once a week
- Raw or undercooked beef
- Raw or undercooked lamb
- Other raw or undercooked meats – venison, horse, rabbit, whale, game birds
Hussain et al. (2017) noted that for salami, specifically, the attributed proportion of Toxoplasmosis infections was 10 to 14 percent in Milan, Naples and Brussels, while it was 3 to 5 percent outside of these places.
How to Avoid Food-Borne Infections
Meats from chicken, pork and beef, including sausages and burgers, can be safely consumed by pregnant women only if they have been cooked well with no trace of blood left (www.nhs.uk). Pre-packed meats like ham and corned beef can be safely eaten during pregnancy as well.
The following temperatures for cooking render foods safe against possible infections (Hussain et al., 2017):
- 63 degrees Celsius – beef, lamb, and veal roasts and steaks
- 71 degrees Celsius – pork, ground meat, wild game
- 82 degrees Celsius – whole poultry
If a pregnant woman craves for salami too much for her to ignore, she can cook it until it is steaming hot (at least 75 degrees Celsius) to make sure that all potential harmful pathogens are killed. Moreover, the salami should be fully consumed soon after cooking.
It is likewise important to ensure that any cooking equipment that came in contact with raw meat should be thoroughly cleaned. This includes cutting boards, dishes, counters, and all utensils used for cooking. Hands must always be washed after handling raw meat (Hussain et al., 2017).
Salami and other deli meats may be harmful to pregnant women and their unborn babies. They can carry disease-causing bacteria and protozoans that are able to cause serious adverse health outcomes.
If you can’t avoid eating salami for any reason, then it is recommended to cook it thoroughly until it is steaming hot. This will kill potential pathogens in the food. If you notice any symptom of food-related infection, make sure to consult with your physician immediately.
The safest way is to avoid this type of food altogether during the course of pregnancy. Your and your baby’s safety should always be the top priority.
- Filipello, V., Amato, E., Gori, M., Huedo, P., Ciceri, G., Lomonaco, S., & Pontello, M. (2017). Epidemiology and molecular typing of pregnancy-associated listeriosis cases in Lombary, Italy, over a 10-year period (2005-2014). Infectious Diseases in Obstetrics and Gynecology 2017, 6479121. doi: 10.1155/2017/6479121
- Kirkham, C. (2010). Listeriosis in pregnancy: Survey of British Columbia practitioners’ knowledge of risk factors, counseling practices, and learning needs. Canadian Family Physician 56(4), e158-e166.
- Tam, C., Erebara, A., & Einarson, A. (2010). Food-borne illnesses during pregnancy: Prevention and treatment. Canadian Family Physician 56(4), 341-343.
- Amin, T., Ali, M., Alrashid, A., Al-Agnam, A., & Sultan, A. (2013). Toxoplasmosis preventive behavior and related knowledge among Saudi pregnant women: An exploratory study. Global Journal of Health Science 5(5), 131-143. doi: 10.5539/gjhs.v5n5p131
- Hussain, M., Stitt, V., Szabo, E., & Nelan, B. (2017). Toxoplasma gondii in the food supply. Pathogens 6(2), 21. doi: 10.3390/pathogens6020021
- Cook, A., Gilbert, R., Buffolano, W., Zufferey, J., Petersen, E., Jenum, P., Foulon, W., Semprini, A., & Dunn, D. (2000). Sources of toxoplasma infection in pregnant women: European multicentre case-control study. BMJ Journals 321(7254), 142-147. doi: 10.1136/bmj.321.7254.142