Prosciutto is a salty delicacy that tickles the fancy of many a food connoisseur, but can you eat prosciutto while pregnant? What are the risks of food poisoning from eating cured meats while pregnant? Continue reading to find out how you can enjoy prosciutto as an expectant mother.
What is prosciutto?
Prosciutto is a type of cured meat popular in Italy. It enjoys protected status, only cured meat from a certain region in Italy may be labelled as prosciutto. Various types exist, most commonly prosciutto crudo, dry aged prosciutto, but also prosciutto cotto, cooked ham. In the English speaking world, however, the term prosciutto is only used for dry-aged ham. Parma ham may also be used to refer to prosciutto.
The process of curing prosciutto through dry ageing
Prosciutto is cured with a dry ageing method of preservation. It is made from pork leg, salted and hung to cure for anything from 9 months to 2 years. Dry-aged meat is not brined, nor is it cooked or smoked. The only addition to ensure it cures without spoiling, is salt, which inhibits the growth of harmful organisms.
The meat is considered ‘cured’ when most of the moisture has been drawn out and the ham is reduced in weight by about 20%. At this point, there is so little moisture left that bacteria cannot grow on it.
Microorganisms in prosciutto
Helpful microorganisms in prosciutto
During the curing time, a white layer of microorganisms forms around the ham. This fluffy white layer is a type of fungus, Penicillium Nalgiovense, but it is harmless. This layer prevents harmful microorganisms from growing on the meat and is usually cut or washed off the meat before consumption.
Harmful microorganisms in prosciutto
However, there is a risk that harmful organisms might take a hold on your cold cured meat. The CDC issued a warning in 2021 that deli meats, including prosciutto, were linked to a listeria infection outbreak. While this is a rare occurrence, it is still a good idea to be aware of the risks involved with eating cold cured meats.
Pregnant women are more susceptible to listeria, symptoms may include fever and fatigue, but infections can lead to premature birth or miscarriage. According to the USDA, other foodborne illnesses that are associated with eating cold cured meats include Escherichia Coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, and Listeria Monocytogenes, Toxoplasmosis.
Safety concerns with certain bacteria in pregnancy
Correctly cured and handled prosciutto carries very low risk of causing foodborne illness, but it is still recommended that pregnant women avoid raw prosciutto. To ensure your safety and that of your unborn baby, stick to prosciutto that has been cooked or exposed to heat high enough to destroy anything harmful, minimum 145F (60-65 Celsius). Harmful bacteria are usually introduced during the slicing of the meat, or contamination by improper handling or storage thereof.
How to destroy the harmful microorganisms
Almost all of the harmful microorganisms that can be found in prosciutto can easily be destroyed using heat, simply heat your prosciutto to at least 145F (60-65 Celsius).
Other concerning aspects of prosciutto during pregnancy
While cooked prosciutto is generally safe to eat in pregnancy, there are other aspects to consider. Cured meats are very high in salt, this is necessary for the preservation and curing process. High salt foods should ideally be avoided during pregnancy, especially if you suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure).
Yes or no for prosciutto during pregnancy?
Does this mean that I should not eat prosciutto during my pregnancy?
There are ways to safely include prosciutto in your diet while pregnant, risk free! The NHS recommends only eating prosciutto that has been thoroughly cooked. Simply use your prosciutto in recipes that require cooking, as heating food to 145F (60-65 Celsius) will destroy any harmful microorganisms that may be present.
What to do if you accidentally ate raw prosciutto during pregnancy?
Do not panic, foodborne illness from cured meats are quite rare. Just monitor yourself carefully and if you do experience any symptoms like fever, headache, nausea and vomiting, or flu-like symptoms, see your doctor immediately.
Where can I purchase safe prosciutto?
Always make sure that you only purchase cold cured meats from reputable sources. Contaminants and harmful bacteria are usually introduced to prosciutto during the slicing process or due to unsanitary handling. Check for good quality packaging and do not purchase prosciutto that has been laying ready cut at room temperature or without covering or packaging. Most developed countries have stringent food safety regulations that reduce this risk, but always be on the lookout for food that has been recalled due to potential risks.
Keep sliced prosciutto refrigerated at all times at a temperature of less than 40F (4 Celsius).
If you are unsure about eating prosciutto during pregnancy, here are some alternative options:
If you want to prepare a recipe that calls for prosciutto, but are a bit wary of the risks or cannot source prosciutto that you are sure is safe for consumption, there are some alternative options.
The cooking process eliminates harmful microorganisms. However, remember that just like other cold cuts, the main point of contamination actually occurs during slicing, handling or improper storage.
Roast beef slices
Easily made at home, just ensure that the beef is roasted until the internal temperature is above 145F (60-65 Celsius) and slice thinly. This is also a possible replacement for prosciutto if you are keeping halaal or kosher.
Bacon or pancetta
Bacon needs to be cooked anyway, so if you cook it yourself, you can be sure that anything harmful has been destroyed. Remember to avoid eating excessive amounts of processed meats, as it holds long term health risks.
Are there any benefits to eating prosciutto during pregnancy?
Prosciutto is a source of protein and amino acids but is usually eaten in small quantities, therefore it is used more as a flavour enhancer and delicacy than a protein source. It can certainly turn a drab sandwich or salad into a culinary masterpiece.
Safe ways for pregnant women to enjoy prosciutto
Traditionally, prosciutto is enjoyed as antipasti, wrapped around fruit or vegetables, as a topping for open-faced sandwiches or in salads. The good news is, there are several delicious and safe ways for pregnant women to eat prosciutto.
Wrap prosciutto slices around asparagus spears, one slice per spear, drizzle with olive oil and roast in the oven at temperature until the asparagus is tender and the prosciutto crisp.
Wrap prosciutto slices around nectarine halves, and grill on a griddle pan until sizzling.
Fry slices of prosciutto in a pan until crispy. Use it as an exciting topping for a salad of fresh roma tomatoes, your favourite salad leaves, crumbled feta, mango slices and sunflower seeds. Remember to wash fresh produce very well!
Alternatively, your crispy prosciutto can also be used to top an open-faced sandwich with basil pesto, fresh tomato slices and mozzarella.
Healthy dinner idea:
Eggplant rollatini is a popular Italian dish, it is surprisingly easy to make and is great with prosciutto. Simply slice eggplant lengthwise into thin slices, spread each slice with some ricotta cheese, lay a slice of prosciutto on top, roll the slices up, and place in a baking dish. Drizzle some olive oil and tomato passata sauce over the rolls and sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake at 356F (180 Celsius) until cooked through. Delicious served with pasta or couscous.
Prosciutto on pizza
Prosciutto is usually added to pizza after baking, but to ensure that it reaches high enough heat to destroy harmful bacteria, simply add it as a topping before your pizza goes into the oven. Pizza toppings that complement prosciutto include rosa tomatoes, mushrooms, feta and fresh rocket or basil added after baking. Limit the amount of pizza you eat to 2 – 4 slices and complement with a green salad for a complete meal. Too much salt and saturated fats, as is found in pizza, may cause health problems in the long term.
Where can I find more information on what foods are safe to eat during my pregnancy?
Please take a look at our app, Pregnancy Diet: Food & Recipes. This new app contains a multitude of pregnancy safe meal ideas, recipes and more. It even has information on what foods are safe to eat during your pregnancy!
You can safely eat prosciutto during your pregnancy, just remember to buy from reputable sources and cook it thoroughly before eating to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
Frequently asked questions
- What to do if I accidentally ate prosciutto during my pregnancy?
Do not panic, foodborne illnesses from cured meats are quite rare. Just monitor yourself carefully and if you do experience any symptoms like fever, headache, nausea and vomiting, or flu-like symptoms, see your doctor immediately.
- Can pregnant women eat prosciutto?
Foodborne illness from prosciutto is quite rare, but to ensure all possible harmful bacteria are destroyed, simply heat your prosciutto to 145F (60-65 Celsius).
- Can I eat cooked prosciutto during pregnancy?
Prosciutto and other cold cured meats that have been heated to 145F (60-65 Celsius) are considered safe for pregnant women to eat.