Whether fruity or green and leafy, salad is often thought of as the ultimate health food.
Both green salads and fruit salads are rich sources of the nutrients needed to support a healthy pregnancy, it’s no wonder many pregnant women wonder how to safely eat salads.
During pregnancy, most foods are safer when served hot, but what about salads?
Salads of all kinds are safe to enjoy while pregnant. However, raw produce should be carefully washed before enjoying it. Because washing is the key to safety, it’s also best to prepare fresh, both at home and at restaurants.
Salads are full of nutritious benefits, but can also harbor harmful bacteria if not selected and prepared carefully.
Continue reading for a complete guide to what types to avoid, topping, and dressing safety both when dining out and creating at home.
Is Bagged or Pre-Prepared Salad Safe When Pregnant?
For busy parents or parents-to-be, pre-prepared or bagged salads can be a convenience lifesaver.
Pre-prepared salads, as I’ll refer to them in this article, also include things like salad kits, bagged chopped lettuces and greens, and bagged salad mixes such as Italian blend or American blend.
You might be familiar with the advice that all raw foods should be washed during pregnancy- and this is true!
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that raw veggies are the most likely culprit for the majority of foodborne illnesses.
Concern around salad stems from the fact that salads are particularly good carriers of E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, and Cyclospora.
In the past 2 years, pre-prepared salads have even been linked to 3 separate multistate foodborne illness outbreaks just in the US (source: CDC).
Out of these bugs, Listeria is the most problematic during pregnancy since it can cause serious harm to an unborn baby (source: CDC).
Women in their first trimester are especially sensitive to Listeria and Salmonella, which aren’t stopped by refrigeration.
This means it’s important to wash the salad before eating in order to stop any infection.
Pre-prepared salads come chopped/shredded and are often advertised as “pre-washed” but because you’re trusting the production process to be clean and keep you safe from foodborne illness these can be risky during pregnancy.
If you’d like to eat pre-prepared salad, it’s best to wash these yourself once at home, even if they are “pre-washed.”
You can read more about how to safely wash pre-prepared salads at home in our article on washing fruits and veggies during pregnancy.
Is Pre-Cut Fruit Salad Safe When Pregnant?
Pre-cut fresh fruit salads are a great convenient option, but have no place in your refrigerator during pregnancy.
The outsides of whole fruits, such as melons, pineapple, and grapes can harbor bacteria.
While washing whole fruits before eating or cutting them up is a good safety practice when creating your own fruit salad, buying pre-cut fruit salad means you’re trusting whoever cut the fruit to have done it with the right sanitary practices.
If one piece of fruit in a pre-cut fruit salad has bacteria on the outside skin and doesn’t get washed, the knife used to cut the fruits into pieces can transfer this bacteria to the rest of the fruit salad. This will contaminate the fruit salad and can make you sick (source: PLoS One).
A good example of this is the 2019 Salmonella outbreak. Pre-cut melon, sold at grocery stores, was linked to 137 infections across several states (source: CDC).
Because you don’t know how safely the pre-cut fruit salad is prepared, it’s best to stick to homemade fruit salad during pregnancy.
The only other option is to thoroughly wash the pre-cut fruit salad when you get it home, but then that’s hardly saving on convenience!
It’s worth noting that fruit salad in a tin / can or heat-treated pot (for example, fruit bowls or fruit cups like the ones sold by Dole), are pasteurized so are safe to eat when you’re pregnant.
Is It Safe to Eat Restaurant Salad When You’re Pregnant?
Ordering a salad at a restaurant might seem like the healthiest choice, but that’s not always the case during pregnancy.
Since “restaurant salad” is a broad term, I’ll break it down below so you can choose the safest type of salad when dining out:
Salad Bars During Pregnancy
Salad bars, where the greens and toppings sit out are quite risky.
While the food is still chilled, usually with hidden tubs of ice under the salad bar, Listeria can survive the refrigeration and infection is the biggest concern.
The South African governmental health agency encourages pregnant women to avoid salad bars for this reason (source: SA Health).
Cross-contamination is another issue as people help themselves, and not everyone is as hygienic as you might like them to be.
Some of the lower-cost salad bars also use pre-bagged, pre-shopped products and empty these into the containers, which carries the usual risks of pre-bagged salads described above.
Fast Food Salads During Pregnancy
Many fast-food restaurants, such as McDonald’s and Subway, use bagged lettuce and salads to create their salads- often sold in clamshell containers with dressing packets.
Because the lettuce sits bagged in the refrigerator, Listeria has a chance to grow and contaminate the salad.
There may also be other contamination down the supply chain. For example, both KFC and Taco bell recalled their lettuce in Canada due to the presence of e.Coli in 2013 (source: FoodSafetyNews).
As I mentioned earlier, bagged salads should be washed before eating when pregnant, however, there is no requirement for restaurants to wash their “pre-washed” bagged salad prior to service.
Not to mention that bagged salads at restaurants have had a reputation for carrying foodborne illness for these very reasons! As a result, it’s best to avoid fast-food salads during pregnancy.
Freshly Made / Scratch-Made Restaurant Salads When Pregnant
Other restaurants, from fast-casual chains to fine dining, make their salads fresh.
Here, freshly-made refers to the restaurant buying whole lettuce or greens, washing them, and chopping the vegetable to create a salad.
Because freshly made salads don’t use bagged lettuces and greens, these are the safest option for expecting mothers when ordering a salad out at a restaurant.
When in doubt, always ask your server how the salad is prepared and if bagged lettuce is used.
Is Homemade Salad Safer During Pregnancy?
As I mentioned earlier, salad is a bit of a magnet for bacterial contamination and foodborne illness, but there are precautions you can take when preparing a fresh salad at home to ensure the most safety.
Like with pre-prepared salads, washing the lettuce and greens thoroughly is important.
The easiest way to do this is in a colander or strainer under running water. If you haven’t read our article on washing veggies yet, check it out here.
Other considerations include the toppings and dressing, as some common salads toppings may not be pregnancy safe.
Meats and fish, such as chicken breast or salmon, are traditionally served cold atop the bed of lettuce.
These items can harbor harmful bacteria so it’s important to serve them to “steaming hot” in order to prevent foodborne illness. For example, if you’d like to enjoy a chicken breast salad, heat the chicken to “steaming hot” just before eating, then add it to your salad while still hot.
Cheeses are another popular topping choice that may not always be safe. Like all foods during pregnancy, pasteurized versions are the safest, so be sure to top your salad with pasteurized cheeses only.
However, some soft cheeses are never safe while pregnant, even if made with pasteurized milk. To see a complete list of safe versus unsafe cheeses, check out our ultimate guide to cheese.
Similar to the lettuce, veggies as a salad topping should be properly washed before building your salad.
Other salad toppings, such as croutons, nuts, and commercially-made bacon bits are all safe to eat for the duration of your pregnancy.
Salad Dressings During Pregnancy
When it comes to the safety of salad dressings, not all types are created equal.
Some dressings, like freshly-made Caesar or creamy vinaigrettes, may be prepared with raw eggs- a huge risk for Salmonella!
So what should you look for when buying or making salad dressing?
- Homemade Caesar: This type of dressing usually contains raw eggs, but it doesn’t have to! Check out our article on Caesar salads for more information and a raw-egg free dressing recipe.
- Store-bought dressing: In order to be shelf-stable, these dressings are typically pasteurized and are totally safe during pregnancy.
- Fresh Premade Dressings: For dressings found in the grocery coolers, be sure to read the label to find out more. Only choose dressings that are pasteurized or use pasteurized eggs and milk.
Can I Eat Salad Every Day if I’m Pregnant?
Salad has a reputation for being a healthy food. They are also easy to customize and create a unique meal every time you sit down to eat, but is eating a salad every day during pregnancy safe?
A standard salad, made with romaine and spring mix lettuces is a good source of fiber, vitamins A and K, folate, manganese, and potassium (source: Very Well Fit).
These vitamins and minerals, especially folate, help to support a growing baby. The fiber content will also be useful for moms experiencing pregnancy-related constipation.
Daily salad eating will give pregnant women a daily boost of vitamins and minerals. For women who are sensitive to fiber’s effects, eating salad daily may mean more frequent trips to the restroom, however.
Overall, as long as the salad greens are well-washed and the toppings and dressings are safe during pregnancy, there are no unwanted side effects from enjoying a daily salad while pregnant.
Overall, during pregnancy, the safest option is to create a fresh salad at home, thoroughly washing the lettuce or greens before eating.
Dining out isn’t off the table, however, it is important to avoid pre-cut fruit salad, salad bars, and salads made from bagged lettuce since these items are most likely to carry bacteria.
Rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, salads can be a nutritious (and safe) addition to your pregnancy diet!
Interested in more salad-related pregnancy safety? You might like:
- Our guide to washing fruit, veg, and other produce to make it safe
- A pregnant woman’s guide to Caesar salad
- Whether you can eat chicken salad during pregnancy
- All about the safety of potato salad and seaweed salad, too
This article has been reviewed and approved for publication in line with our editorial policy.