Queso can mean lots of things, incuding dips, sauces or fresh cheeses. If you’ve wondered about its pregnancy safety, you’re not alone.
Many popular brands of queso have been pasteurized and are therefore safe to eat, but it’s important to consider the source when you are eating at a restaurant. Some choices are better than others and we’ll discuss those here.
Eating queso fresco, queso blanco and other soft cheeses is not safe when you’re pregnant unless these cheeses have been pasteurized. Some queso appears as a dip, which is usually fine to eat depending on how it’s made.
There are some ingredients in queso that you’ll want to be aware of while pregnant, which we’ll also cover in this article.
Is Queso Fresco Safe for Pregnant Women?
Queso fresco – or queso blanco – is safe for pregnant women to eat as long as it has been pasteurized to avoid any risk of listeria (Source: APO).
Listeria (full name Listeria monocytogenes) is a type of bacteria that causes some people to get very ill, and it is not only one of the main causes of death from food poisoning in the US, but it carries a higher risk of miscarriage or stillbirth if you’re pregnant.
When milk has been pasteurized, it has been heated to a high enough temperature to kill listeria and other germs (Source: CDC).
Check the label to make sure your queso fresco/blanco has been pasteurized, and make sure that it has been prepared in a clean environment.
Cheese made in unclean places, or that has been stored improperly, can still get contaminated with listeria even if the milk has been pasteurized (Source: CDC).
Raw milk is pasteurized in two common ways. The first is low temperature pasteurization, in which the milk is heated to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit (63C) for 30 minutes or more.
The second method is by high-temperature pasteurization in which milk is heated to 161 degrees Fahrenheit (around 72C) or more for at least 15 seconds, and then rapidly cooled (Source: HGIC).
Both methods make the milk safe for pregnant women to consume.
Is Mexican Restaurant Queso Pasteurized and Pregnancy Safe?
Most restaurant chains use pasteurized cheeses, whether it’s queso fresco, queso de Oaxaca (the cheese that looks a bit like a ball of mozzarella), or panela (the slightly harder cheese that is often fried).
This means that most Mexican restaurant queso is safe for pregnant women to eat, incuding queso dips.
Here are some popular restaurant chains and whether or not they’re safe for you if you’re pregnant.
If you want to know about other types of Mexican food, we have a pregnancy Mexican food guide too!
Chipotle Mexican Grill’s queso, along with all of Chipotle’s cheeses, are safe to eat if you’re pregnant.
Moe’s Southwest Grill – Moe’s famous Queso as well as their shredded cheese and sour cream use pasteurized ingredients, and are therefore fine for pregnant women to eat.
Torchy’s – Torcy’s queso dip and their Tacos Queso are made from pasteurized milk and cheeses and are therefore safe in pregnancy.
Qdoba Mexican Eats – Qdoba’s Three Cheese Queso uses pasteurized cheddar, semisoft and blue cheeses, and is safe when pregnant.
Taco John’s – Taco John’s Nacho Cheese and Queso Blanco contain pasteurized milk and soy, so are OK during pregnancy.
Taco Bell – Taco Bell’s Salsa Con Queso dip, Quesadilla sauce, and Nacho Cheese are all safe to eat when you’re pregnant, too.
El Pollo Loco – El Pollo Loco’s Queso Sauce and Queso Fresco/Blanco are pregnancy-safe.
Del Taco. Del Taco’s queso – on their nachos, loaded fries, in their Queso Dip, etc., is safe to eat when you’re pregnant.
Chuy’s Tex-Mex – Chuy’s Queso dip as well as their cheese sauce for burritos are also pregnancy-friendly.
Independent restaurants – Ask in the restaurant if the queso they use has been pasteurized.
In a lot of American Mexican restaurants, it will be, but as in Mexico queso is traditionally made with raw milk, it is best to ask to be sure. You can eat hot, cooked queso dip, however, since the heat will have destroyed any bacteria that might be unsafe.
Pregnancy-Safe Brands of Queso Cheese and Dips
It is worth noting here that queso fresco can be found both as a cheese on its own, and as an ingredient in Mexican style dips and sauces.
Whether you are buying queso fresco or a cheesy dip, check the label to see if the milk has been pasteurized.
Some product labels may say ‘cultured milk’, which means that good bacteria have been added – such as in yogurts – and the milk will have been pasteurized and therefore is safe to eat.
Pregnancy Safe Queso Brands:
Tostitos Queso Dips (Salsa Con Queso, Medium Queso Blanco, Smooth and Cheesy Dip, etc). Tostitos uses pasteurized milk to make the cheese that goes into their dips.
Cacique Dips (Ranchero® Queso Fresco, Panela, Queso Blanco, etc) are all made with pasteurized milk.
El Mexicano (Queso Fresco, Queso Oaxaca, Panela, Nacho Cheese Sauce, etc) are also safe to eat.
Don Francisco (Queso Fresco, Panela, Fresco Michoacano, etc) are also produced under the same strict hygiene conditions.
VV Supremo is another popular brand (Queso Fresco, Queso Chihuahua, Queso Del Caribe).
La Morenita (Queso Fresco, Queso Panela, etc.) is good too.
Los Altos (Queso Panela, Queso Fresco, Queso Blanco) is also widely available.
Safety Issues with Homemade or Independent Producers of Queso
With independent cheese producers, you need to check the label to make sure the milk has been pasteurized.
There have been cases of ‘bathtub cheeses’ – home-produced cheeses with raw milk – that have made people very ill. The FDA has quite strict requirements on cheese production (Source: AccessData).
The particular challenge for women in the US is that there is a lot of homemade queso fresco or blanco available in farmer’s markets or even from friends that has not been pasteurized and therefore may be perfectly delicious, but isn’t safe to eat if you’re pregnant.
This is a problem especially in the Hispanic community where people may use raw milk to make their own queso fresco, without realizing they may be putting the life of an unborn child at risk (Source: FDA).
If you are at a local market and are offered typical queso cheese in a banana or corn leaf, it may look tempting, but do ask if the milk has been pasteurized.
If you have any doubts, it is best to avoid these cheeses, whether you’re pregnant or not.
I Accidentally Ate Queso Fresco When Pregnant – Should I Worry?
Unlike a lot of other cheeses, queso fresco is usually crumbled on top of enchiladas and other dishes so it won’t have been heated to kill off bacteria.
However, you shouldn’t need to worry. Most restaurant chains and commercial brands use pasteurized milk for their queso fresco and this is safe during pregnancy.
There are approximately 1,600 cases of listeriosis per year in the United States, with only one in seven cases occurring in pregnant women.
Out of 4 million pregnancies a year, that’s about 200 women, so the odds are slim that you have contracted listeriosis if you’ve eaten queso fresco (Source: CDC).
Here’s what you need to know: the most common symptom of listeriosis in pregnancy is running a fever. The other usual symptoms are diarrhea and vomiting, but pregnant women with listeriosis usually don’t show these symptoms.
If you have eaten queso fresco and you think it might not have been pasteurized, and if you have a fever or any flu-like symptoms (such as fatigue, muscle aches), consult your health professional immediately to be on the safe side.
All in all, you can enjoy most queso fresco or queso dips while pregnant as long as the milk has been pasteurized.
There are many brands of queso fresco that you can also buy to enjoy at home, too.
This article has been reviewed and approved for publication in line with our editorial policy.