A classic American staple, burgers are featured everywhere from trendy restaurants to tailgating and a backyard summer cookout. But during pregnancy, the safety of meats- especially ground meat- gets dicey.
Pregnant women can safely eat burgers, so long as food safety and cooking temperatures are kept in mind. When ordering out, ask for a well-done burger during pregnancy and hold the lettuce to help minimize your risk of foodborne illness and keep you and baby full, satisfied, and safe.
How can you continue enjoying this classic dish without worrying over your safety while pregnant? I’ll break down what to look for when buying and preparing all types of burgers, as well as a handy temperature guide for home cookouts.
Are Burgers Safe for Pregnant Women?
Burgers are a popular pregnancy craving (as we’ll talk about later), but naturally, many women wonder if they’re safe to eat.
The typical beef hamburger patty is fairly energy-dense. A standard 4-ounce serving also contains 17 grams of fat, with 6 of those grams being saturated fat. Though saturated fat is the type of fat known to contribute to heart disease, enjoying an occasional burger also won’t break the bank.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 10% of your daily calorie intake should come from saturated fat (source: American Heart Association).
Burgers’ main safety concern is foodborne illness. While you do need to watch the cooking temperature a bit more closely with ground meats, burgers can still be a safe part of your pregnancy diet. I’ll cover more details of how to safely cook burgers in the next section.
Safe Burger Cooking Temperatures for Pregnancy
When it comes to enjoying a burger while pregnant, the main concern is temperature. Like all meats, the internal temperature that the burger is cooked to dictates its safety. Because burgers are made with ground meat, typically ground beef, they have to be cooked more thoroughly.
Let’s take a look at why burgers and other ground meats are different when it comes to safety.
In order to make ground beef, whole pieces of beef are sent through a meat grinder. This process breaks up and tenderizes the beef pieces, but in doing so, can actually spread bacteria.
Bacteria that were hanging out on the outside of the whole beef can end up in the ground beef and make their way into the middle of the ground beef patty (source: National Research Council).
Because of the risk of foodborne illness, all ground beef products, burgers included, should be cooked to 160°F to ensure their safety (source: Eat Right).
Many women wonder how to order this way in a restaurant, since you don’t normally order your burger in degrees Fahrenheit. Most fast food restaurants, such as McDonalds, serve thinner patties which are typically cooked well done.
Below is a table that details the “doneness,” average internal cooking temperature, and safety during pregnancy. These temperatures follow a similar pattern to those used in BBQ cooking. For more details on safely grilling or BBQ at home, check out our dedicated article.
|The ‘doneness’ of the Burger||Temperature||Safe While Pregnant?|
|Rare||125°F / 51.7c||X|
|Medium Rare||135°F / 57.2c||X|
|Medium (aka “pink”)||145°F / 62.8c||X|
|Medium Well (aka “a little pink”)||150°F / 65.5c||X|
|Well Done||160°F / 71.1c||✓|
|Chicken or Turkey Burgers (see below)||165°F / 73.9c||✓|
Can I Eat Cold Burgers When Pregnant?
Eating leftovers is a great way to save money on the weekly grocery bill, not to mention decrease your carbon footprint through reducing food waste. But leftovers come with their own set of safety considerations when pregnant.
First, make sure your leftovers are stored correctly. The burgers should be placed in a sealed container or wrapped up and refrigerated within 2 hours. Plan to eat the leftover burgers within the next several days (source: Healthy Canada).
Second, even though the cold or leftover burgers have already been cooked, they still need to be heated to the familiar 165°F in order to eliminate any bacteria that may have grown since cooking (source: Healthy Canada, USDA). In order to avoid the potential for food poisoning, it’s best to avoid eating cold burgers.
Other Burger Types and Pregnancy Safety
Turkey and chicken burgers are popular alternatives. Whether you’re looking to decrease your saturated fat intake, avoid beef for cultural reasons, or simply don’t enjoy the taste of red meats these alternative options also come with some alternative safety considerations.
Poultry is more susceptible to carrying foodborne illness. For turkey, chicken, and other ground poultry a slightly hotter temperature is required. Cook these items to an internal temperature of 165°F before enjoying (source: USDA).
Can I Eat Veggie/Vegan/Vegetarian Burgers When Pregnant?
Veggie burgers come in a nearly endless variety of flavors, core ingredients, and textures with more popping up in stores every week. But are the ingredients safe to eat while pregnant?
Most veggie burgers are safe during pregnancy. Unlike traditional beef or turkey burger patties, veggie burgers do have a few more ingredients. Typically, these patties are made with a vegetable protein (such as soy or pea), along with other veggies, binding ingredients (such as egg or cheese), and herbs or seasonings to give them more flavor.
None of these ingredients are inherently “unhealthy,” even during pregnancy.
Harvard Health ran a comparison between some popular varieties- bean burgers, Impossible burger, and Beyond Meat/Beyond Burger. They found that all of these different veggie burgers had roughly the same amount of calories and total fat per serving.
Bean burgers were lowest in saturated fat, sodium, and protein while being highest in fiber and carbohydrate (source: Harvard Health).
Keep in mind, more protein and less carbohydrate isn’t necessarily the “best” choice for all women. Your body is only able to absorb about 20 grams of protein per meal (source: Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition).
Eating a bean burger with cheese on a bun offers around 20 grams of protein total, plus the carbohydrate and fiber to keep you full and satisfied.
Since veggie burgers aren’t made with meat, they are less susceptible to bacteria. Many brands are also sold frozen or even “pre-cooked”, further inhibiting bacterial growth.
Temperature-wise, treat these products as you would with any other frozen or refrigerated item and be sure to cook/heat them thoroughly before eating (source: Colorado State University).
Burger Toppings And Pregnancy Safety
One of the best parts of eating a burger (and my personal favorite) is the toppings! But not all of the typical burger toppings are pregnancy safe. Below is a list of the most common toppings and how you can keep safe while still stacking your burger high.
- Lettuce- When dining out, skip the lettuce. At home, ensure you properly wash the greens before adding to your plate. If you’re a lettuce-lover, check out our complete guide to salad for more ways to keep greens pregnancy-safe.
- Tomato/onion- When eating out, veggies are safest when heated to steaming hot. While these veggies might get a little warm when placed on the bun with a hot burger, this isn’t hot enough to kill off bacteria.
Ask the restaurant to heat the whole sandwich or even just the veggies until hot before serving. At home, if you follow safe food handling and washing, raw tomato and onion on your burger can still be safe.
- Pickles- The iconic pregnancy craving, most pregnant women are no stranger to eating pickles. Lucky for pickle-lovers, the salty, crunchy veggie is a perfectly safe burger topping!
- Bacon- Ensure you’re using only fully cooked bacon. At home, adding cold bacon to your sandwich is safe, so long as it’s been stored properly. If dining out, ask for the bacon to be freshly cooked in order to minimize risk of foodborne illness.
- Cheese- The safety of cheese on a burger ultimately comes down to which type you choose. Hard cheeses and semi-soft cheeses made with pasteurized milk are safe to enjoy. Check out our complete guide to cheese for a full listing.
- Fried egg- Eggs are notorious for salmonella. Most often served over-easy, only include a fried egg on your burger if it’s cooked thoroughly. Read our article on eggs for more information on the best ways to prepare eggs during pregnancy.
- Ketchup/mustard/mayo (and other sauces)- The biggest concern with sauces is actually related to an ingredient- eggs! Some creamy or mayo-based sauces contain raw eggs. Store-bought sauces should contain pasteurized egg and so are safe to eat while pregnant. Steer clear of homemade and fresh-prepared egg-containing sauces.
Is it OK to Crave Burgers During Pregnancy?
Craving a burger is common, especially during pregnancy. As with all other pregnancy cravings, there’s not a specific meaning behind them- aside from being pregnant, of course!
Some women wonder whether or not it’s “healthy” to indulge in burger cravings. While beef burgers do contain quite a bit of saturated fat, they are filling and satisfying. If you’re craving a burger, honor that craving and enjoy the burger.
If you’re consistently craving burgers and enjoying them daily, then consider opting for leaner meat mixture, like 90/10 beef, or swapping out for a turkey burger on occasion. Pair a burger with fruit or veggies on the side to make sure you’re meeting your micronutrient and fiber needs as well.
Make sure you’re following safe food handling if cooking at home, or asking for a well-done burger if ordering out. Follow the safety guidelines outlined above when it comes to toppings as well.
Overall, burgers can be a delicious and satisfying addition to your pregnancy diet. Be sure to double-check the temperature and toppings in order to keep yourself and baby safe.