Shrimp and Prawns are a popular ingredient the world over. Unsurprisingly, pregnant women often ask if it’s safe to eat shrimp or prawns, as seafood is often a grey area. In this article, I’ll address whether or not shrimp is safe in pregnancy and give examples of common dishes.
Can pregnant women eat shrimp or prawns? Shrimp and prawns are safe to eat when pregnant if they are fully cooked. This includes shrimp that is cooked and served cold, such as in a shrimp cocktail. Raw shrimp and prawns are unsafe in pregnancy, e.g. those in shrimp sushi or ceviche.
For the purposes of this article, shrimp and prawns will be used interchangeably as the term varies from country to country. For example, a ‘king prawn’ to a UK person is a ‘jumbo shrimp’ to an American. Shrimp and Prawns are two different but similar creatures, but can be treated the same way for the purposes of safely eating them in pregnancy.
The same guidance written here about shrimp and prawns also applies to:
- Brown shrimp, such as the small potted kind
- Crevettes (this is the French term for a shrimp or prawn)
- Langoustines (also known as Norwegian Lobsters, Dublin Bay Prawn or Scampi)
- Crayfish (also known as Crawfish or Crawdads)
Shrimp & Prawn Dishes That Are Unsafe in Pregnancy
Shrimp is unsafe if it’s raw, undercooked, or only cured rather than cooked. Here are some examples of when it’s not safe to eat shrimp when you’re pregnant:
Shrimp or Prawn Sushi
It’s uncommon to get sushi with an uncooked shrimp or prawn, as usually sushi is presented with a butterflied, cooked shrimp on top. However, should raw shrimp or prawn appear in any sushi or sashimi dish, then you should avoid eating it if you’re pregnant.
Be aware that you should avoid all raw shrimp or prawns in sushi even if the government guidelines say sushi, in general, is OK (as the British National Health Service does here). Shellfish is not the same as fish. For the avoidance of doubt, no matter where you are, if you’re pregnant you should avoid ALL raw shellfish like shrimp and prawns.
This is an example where the shrimp is raw, but is cured by acid (usually from lime or lemon juice). Be aware that sometimes it’s referred to as being ‘cooked’ by the acid, but this still doesn’t make it safe. As the shrimp isn’t cooked with any heat, it could still contain harmful bacteria and therefore should be avoided by pregnant women.
Shrimp or Prawn Carpaccio
I’ve seen this starting to crop up on a few fine-dining menus so though I’d also include it here. This is raw, wafer-thin seasoned slices of prawns or shrimp. As the shellfish is still raw, it shouldn’t be eaten in pregnancy.
Mexican Shrimp Cocktail
Similar to ceviche, the traditional Mexican style of shrimp or prawn cocktail (Coctel de Camarones) uses raw shrimp and is therefore unsafe for pregnant women. This isn’t the same as a regular shrimp or prawn cocktail containing cooked, cold shrimps, which is usually safe to eat in pregnancy (see above).
Shrimp Dishes That Are Safe To Eat When Pregnant
Shrimp Cocktails or Prawn Cocktails When Pregnant
Pregnant women often wonder if they can eat a traditional shrimp cocktail where the shrimp are cooked and then served cold in a Marie Rose or seafood style cocktail sauce. Shrimp cocktail is safe to eat in pregnancy because shrimp or prawns in a cocktail are always cooked. The only exception is the Mexican shrimp cocktail, covered above.
There are two other issues to look out for, though. The first is that most seafood and shrimp cocktail sauces are mayonnaise-based, so you should check if the eggs in the mayo have been pasteurized. You might want to read this article I wrote telling you all about when mayonnaise is safe to eat in pregnancy. If the shrimp sauce is the slightly spicy tomato kind that usually contains mustard or horseradish, with no mayo, then it’s safe for pregnant women.
All commercial seafood sauces will contain pasteurized ingredients. If seafood or cocktail sauce is in a jar and not in the fridge, it’s pasteurized and safe to eat in pregnancy. If it’s in a fridge, check the ingredients first for the presence of raw egg or mayo.
The second thing to look out for is that shrimp or prawn cocktails are often served with lettuce or other pre-chopped salads. These are best avoided if eaten in a restaurant, so unless you’ve made the prawn or shrimp cocktail yourself, skip the lettuce or salad it comes with.
Prawn cocktail flavored crisps
As many British people will recognize, prawn cocktail is a popular crisp flavor and yes, prawn cocktail crisps are safe to eat in pregnancy!
Tempura shrimp or tempura prawns
Tempura shrimp should be thoroughly cooked by the deep-frying process and therefore tempura shrimp or prawns are safe to eat when you’re pregnant. Keep an eye out for the ingredients of dipping sauces, however, as creamy style ones may contain mayo and subsequently raw egg. Check the ingredients first.
Popcorn shrimp, battered shrimp or deep-fried shrimp
Fried shrimp with a coating such as popcorn or coconut shrimp are all safe when pregnant as the seafood is fully cooked in the frying process. Bear in mind that deep-fried foods should be eaten in moderation in pregnancy, but there’s nothing unsafe about them if the shrimp were fully cooked before being served. You can always cut one in half and check that it’s fully cooked before tucking in.
Boiled shrimp or grilled shrimp
Boiled and grilled shrimp are both pregnancy-safe if the shrimp have been cooked thoroughly. Both usually are, but always check by testing one of the shrimp first. They should be firm, meaty and opaque, not translucent or ‘jelly’ like. Old Bay Seasoning and blackened shrimp seasoning are both safe in pregnancy, in case you’re sprinkling that on your shrimp.
These Chinese snacks usually come as deep-fried pieces of bread, topped with minced prawns and sprinkled with sesame seeds. As they’re fully cooked by frying before serving, prawn toasts are safe for pregnant women to eat.
Whether steamed or fried, shrimp dumplings are safe to eat in pregnancy if the interior is fully cooked. If in doubt, cut one in half and take a look. This is particularly important if there is pork mixed in with the shrimp, which is very common in most Chinese traditional dumplings. Check that the filling – whether shrimp and pork or just shrimp, is fully cooked.
Fermented Shrimp Paste (the type commonly used in Asian and Oriental cooking) is safe to eat in pregnancy. Such pastes are usually made from steamed or dried shrimp with added flavorings and sodium. It would be very hard for bacteria to survive in shrimp paste if it’s stored properly (very often it doesn’t even need refrigerating, but check first).
Shrimp paste can vary a lot from brand to brand and from country to country but in general, any fermented, dried paste (rather than a soft, wet paste) can be eaten safely if pregnant. Be aware of the high sodium content, though.
Prawn mayonnaise sandwiches (or crayfish sandwiches)
Prawn sandwiches are popular, especially in the UK. Prawn mayonnaise sandwiches are fine for pregnant women to eat as the prawns are always cooked before being made into sandwich filings. The mayonnaise in the sandwich should be made with pasteurized eggs, so double-check this too. Most if not all commercially made prawn mayo sandwiches contain mayo made with pasteurized ingredients and are safe in pregnancy.
Prawn crackers are another Asian snack that is safe to eat in pregnancy as the prawn contained in the batter is cooked as the cracker is deep-fried.
Frozen shrimp or frozen prawns when Pregnant
Frozen shrimp should be treated the same as fresh. Frozen shrimp are safe to eat in pregnancy if they are fully cooked. Prawns or shrimp that are cooked and then frozen are also safe to eat, as the cooking process should already have killed off any harmful bacteria.
Be aware that some types of prawn or shrimp look cooked when they’re still raw because of natural pink coloring (whereas most raw shrimp are a translucent gray). Examples of these include the Gulf pink shrimp or Carabineros from the Mediterranean.
How much mercury is in shrimp or prawns?
Shrimp are low in mercury, averaging 0.009 ppm (parts per million) according to the FDA. To put this into perspective, scientists consider 0.1ppm to be a high mercury level, so shrimp have less than ten times this mercury amount. Shrimp are also classed as a ‘best choice’ seafood for women of childbearing age, according to the Fish Advice from the Environmental Protection Agency.
This, however, depends a lot on where the shrimp come from and how they are raised. The numbers given are only an average. If you’re eating locally caught wild shrimp, then the local environment or waterways agency will be able to tell you whether the shrimp is likely to contain higher levels of mercury.
Should Pregnant Women Eat Farmed or Wild shrimp?
There is no ‘best’ shrimp choice for pregnancy. Rather, it depends on your personal considerations of sustainability, the environment and the use of chemicals in shrimp farming.
Whether or not you can choose to eat wild shrimp depends on whether you can actually get hold of it. Around 90% of all shrimp consumed in the USA is farmed, and only 1% of that is produced domestically. The rest is imported from Asia. Quality varies wildly but as a general rule the cheaper the shrimp, the more likely it is to be treated with chemicals.
Cheaper shrimp is often treated with sodium bisulfite (to stop the shells darkening) or sodium tripolyphosphate, which increases the weight of shrimp by making them absorb more water. Either chemical is often listed on the bag. Both are considered generally safe to consume by the FDA and there is no reason to avoid them in pregnancy unless you are particularly sensitive to sulfites.
As with many food ingredients, the better the quality, the higher the price. Subsequently domestic, wild-caught shrimp is usually higher quality than cheap imported shrimp, but either is fine in pregnancy if fully cooked.
Can I Eat Shrimp in Early Pregnancy or every Trimester?
Pregnant women can safely eat shrimp at any stage of pregnancy (even in the first trimester) if it’s fully cooked. You might want to take a look at the tips on prepping and eating shrimp below, to make sure you’re eating shrimp in the most hygienic and safe ways during your pregnancy.
How Much, and How Often Can I Eat Shrimp in Pregnancy?
The American Pregnancy Association recommends that pregnant women eat 8 – 12 oz of shellfish per week, which they estimate to be two or three meals. As shrimp is low in mercury it’s a good choice in pregnancy (also see the nutritional information below). If you’re eating shrimp often, then you may also want to scroll down for my guidelines on prepping and eating shrimp, to make it as safe as possible in pregnancy.
Benefits of Eating Shrimp in Pregnancy (is it good for you?)
As confirmed by the APA, shrimp is a good pregnancy choice as it’s high in protein, low in fat and is a shellfish low in mercury. If fully cooked, it’s safe to eat in almost any form. Although it contains a higher than average amount of cholesterol, it’s a good source of Selenium, Iron, Vitamin B12 and Phosphorus (source: Healthline).
Steaming and boiling shrimp is the healthiest way to cook it, according to VeryWellFit, but be aware if you’re dipping it in butter, frying or coating it, or having it with a heavy sauce, then it’s going to add to the calories and fat. Some shrimp seasoning can be high in sodium, too – so keep an eye on this if you’re dredging your shrimp in seasoning.
3 Tips for Selecting, Prepping and Eating Shrimp when Pregnant
- According to the FDA, choose fresh shrimp that has no ‘fishy’ odor, that is pearly-colored and is stored for display on a thick bed of ice. If buying frozen, avoid any torn or broken bags, or ones that have a layer of frost (which indicates refreezing). Never buy frozen shrimp that is soft or partially defrosted.
- Only defrost as much shrimp as you’re going to use – don’t defrost and refreeze shrimp. Once defrosted, cook and use it quickly and don’t store it for more than a couple of days in the fridge when defrosted. Store and wrap any leftovers securely and eat them within three days.
- Remove the gut or intestinal tract of shrimp before cooking if you’re preparing it at home. You can also remove it from cooked shrimp when eating out. The gut, or ‘sand vein’ is easily identifiable as the black line that runs down the back of the shrimp. Some factories remove it (especially if the shrimp is shelled already) and label this as ‘deveined’ shrimp, but it’s still commonly left in many cheaper brands.
Although it’s not harmful to eat the vein, it usually only contains grit (hence the black color) and is a matter of personal preference. I always remove it, but it depends if you have the time and the inclination. It’s much easier to do on large shrimp rather than small ones.
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