Carved turkey is a Thanksgiving staple for many American households, but not all types of turkey products are created equal when it comes to safety during pregnancy.
You’ve probably also wondered about turkey bacon, turkey deli meat, or even turkey sausage. Is it all OK when you’re pregnant?
Turkey is safe during pregnancy if it’s cooked and prepared properly. It’s also a good source of many nutrients that can be beneficial for pregnant women. However, because turkey is considered poultry, there are several health risks to be aware of, too.
I’ll dish out on all kinds of turkey, from the beloved carved holiday bird to turkey bacon, and give you the scoop on stuffing safety, cooking temperatures, and safe storage.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Thanksgiving Turkey? Is It Safe?
Are you thinking: “Help – I don’t want to miss out on Thanksgiving turkey, but I’m expecting!”
Good news – you definitely don’t have to give up your holiday tradition for the sake of safety!
Turkey is a wonderful and versatile lean protein source, as well as being rich in B vitamins which are especially needed during pregnancy.
Turkey is cooked in many different ways, so its nutrition will vary accordingly.
Whether you enjoy yours stuffed, broiled, or even deep-fried it’s important to prepare correctly with a few simple rules to help keep you and baby safe.
No matter how you slice it, turkey is a good source of protein, selenium, phosphorus, and vitamins B3, B6, and B12 (source: NutritionData).
The combination of these nutrients support healthy growth for the baby and the protein can help you to feel full and satisfied.
Regardless of how you choose to prepare your bird, there is one major consideration: temperature.
As a member of the poultry family, turkey carries the risk of foodborne illness with the most common ones being Campylobacter jejuni, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens (source: Journal of Food Nutrition).
The best way to keep healthy and safe? Cook turkey until the internal temperature reaches at least 165°F/75°C.
This can only be accurately measured using a culinary thermometer stuck into the thickest part of the meat (our recommended thermometers are here).
This standard goes for all types of turkey, such as oven roasted, deep fried, and turkey with stuffing (source: Foodsafety.gov).
Turkey Stuffing Safety During Pregnancy
The stuffing, or as some call it, dressing, can easily be overlooked when it comes to food safety.
Because stuffing isn’t usually raw when stuffed into the cavity many people assume it can’t cause sickness.
However, stuffing does come into contact with the raw turkey, meaning it can be contaminated with any bacteria that the turkey might be.
Just like turkey, any stuffing that is inside the bird must be heated to 165°F/75°C for safety.
Should I Worry about Salmonella in Turkey?
When thinking about the safety of turkey, you may remember the recall of branded turkey products due to Salmonella in 2019.
Hearing about food products recalled because of sickness can be frightening for any pregnant woman.
As scary as it may be to think that things you eat can cause illness, let’s take a look at the facts and see how easy it is to enjoy turkey safely, even when pregnant.
- In March 2019, over 78,000 lbs of turkey were recalled because of possible infection with Salmonella
- Only 7 people became ill as a result
- The last person to become ill reported their symptoms only 3 days after the items were recalled, meaning the government acted quickly to stop additional infections
- Salmonella and other bacteria are be destroyed by cooking, which is easily done in your microwave or oven
The bottom line? If your turkey, and any stuffing that was cooked inside the cavity, are at least 165°F/75°C, turkey is perfectly safe for both you and baby.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Cold Cuts or Cold, Cooked Turkey?
According to some folks, the best part of Thanksgiving turkey is the next afternoon’s “leftover sandwich”.
A cold cuts or cold meat sandwich isn’t advisable during pregnancy due to risk of contamination with Listeria monocytogenes (source: CDC).
If you want to enjoy a slice of leftover turkey, it’s important to heat it thoroughly to 165°F/75°C in order to destroy any bacteria (source: Mayo Clinic).
For more on enjoying cold cuts and deli turkey safely, you can read our ultimate guide to deli meat during pregnancy. This also includes a table of how to heat up meat by several methods to make sure it’s safe.
Can I Eat Smoked Turkey if I’m Pregnant?
When it comes to smoked meats, including turkey, there can be a lot of variation in how the meat is actually prepared. You can read more about all types of smoked and BBQ meats here.
The two main concerns with smoked meats are 1) temperature and 2) potentially harmful chemicals released from grilling.
As mentioned above, the meat should be cooked or reheated to “steaming hot” at 165°F/75°C in order to destroy any possible bacteria.
If the turkey was grilled, using hot coals and/or a flame to cook quickly at a high temperature, then it is best to eat only small amounts, especially for mothers in their third trimester.
Grilling produces the chemical compound Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) which are thought to likely be carcinogenic (source: ATSDR).
This doesn’t mean you should avoid it completely, but it’s an individual choice of how much smoked or grilled meat you want to eat during pregnancy.
There’s a lot more on this in our article on smoked and grilled meats.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Turkey Hot Dogs?
Turkey hot dogs are a commonly touted “health swap” for their beef counterparts.
Many packages instruct you to cook until the turkey frankfurter is warmed through, but during pregnancy, just “warmed” isn’t enough.
Turkey dogs can be safely enjoyed during pregnancy so long as they are cooked to the familiar temperature of 165°F/75°C and served when “steaming hot.” (source: FDA).
Our article on hot dogs covers everything you want to know about hot dogs, including nitrate information and tips on the best cooking methods and times to ensure you safely enjoy your turkey dogs.
Can I Eat Turkey Bacon When Pregnant?
Similar to turkey hot dogs, turkey bacon is considered a healthier alternative to pork bacon for its lower fat content.
With and without nitrites, cured, and ready-to-heat, all these varieties of turkey bacon can be safe to eat during pregnancy provided they’ve been cooked thoroughly and served hot.
Turkey or not, cold bacon should be avoided.
Are Turkey Sausages Safe For Pregnant Women?
Sausage links, patties, and crumbled sausage are all ground turkey products.
Because turkey sausages are made from ground meat, pregnant women can safely eat them once the sausage has been cooked fully to 165°F/75°C in order to kill any bacteria.
We talk more about sausages and bacteria in this article.
Is Turkey Deli Meat or Turkey Lunch Meat Safe When Pregnant?
Deli meats or lunch meat, such as deli turkey, are popular for a quick and filling lunch sandwich but there’s a reason many countries recommend that pregnant women avoid turkey lunch meat or deli meat.
Between processing factories, being displayed in a deli counter, and eaten cold, deli meats have a high risk of being contaminated with Listeria (source: CDC).
The good news? Heat from cooking destroys Listeria, making “steaming hot” deli meats safe for pregnant women.
No matter what you call them, deli meat, lunch meat, or cold cuts, these foods should be heated to 165°F/75°C in order to destroy any bacteria.
Tip: Learn how long to reheat your leftovers in our article on deli meats.
Are Turkey Burgers or Ground Turkey Safe For Pregnant Women?
Turkey burgers, turkey meatballs, and other ground turkey products are often marketed as a “healthier” alternative to traditional beef-based products.
The main difference between turkey and beef ground meat is the fat content, where turkey is 50% lower in fat than the standard 80/20 ground beef (source: USDA).
However, regardless of fat content the principles of traditional ground meats still apply to turkey products.
Whether you’re chowing down on a turkey burger or tossing turkey meatballs in with marinara, make sure to cook until the inside of the product is at least 165°F to prevent foodborne illness (source: USDA).
Packaged, frozen ground turkey items may be pre-cooked, but should still be heated to (you guessed it!) 165°F/75°C to ensure you enjoy it safely.
All in all, pregnancy certainly doesn’t mean you need to give up your Thanksgiving staple (or next-day leftovers), even though poultry does carry risk for foodborne illness.
Taking care to heat all types of turkey thoroughly to 165°F/75°C can destroy bacteria, help prevent sickness, and keep you and baby happy and healthy.
This article has been reviewed and approved for publication in line with our editorial policy.