Can I Eat Smoked Salmon Whilst Pregnant? Is It Safe?

Smoked salmon is one of the trickiest foods to classify for safety in pregnancy. The web is full of conflicting information and, unusually, it varies from country to country.

I decided to put together a complete guide on whether pregnant women should eat smoked salmon, and in what form.

Can you eat smoked salmon in pregnancy? Pregnant women can safely eat “hot-smoked” salmon as the fish is cooked during the smoking process. “Cold-smoked” salmon in pregnancy depends on whether it is shelf-stable and where it’s from. In both cases, quantity guidelines for salmon should be followed.

Smoked salmon takes many forms, and it’s important to analyze what kind of smoked salmon you’re eating if you’re pregnant.

Here, I’ll explore each type and examples of where you might find and eat different types of smoked salmon.

Note that this article is only about smoked salmon. If you want to know about regular, unsmoked salmon, then you might be interested in this article I wrote, covering all aspects of pregnancy and eating salmon.

Which Types of Smoked Salmon Are Safe In Pregnancy?

hot smoked salmon
Hot smoked salmon (these ones are peppered, too). Can be eaten warm or cold.

Hot Smoked Salmon

Hot smoked salmon is safe for pregnant women to eat, whether fresh, frozen or canned.

This is because the salmon is smoked at a temperature high enough to cook the fish thoroughly during the smoking process (source: USDA).

Hot smoked salmon is opaque and should be labeled “hot-smoked”. If it’s home-smoked, the smoking temperature should have been above 160F / 71C for part of the smoking process.

Canned or Tinned Smoked Salmon

Canned salmon, usually found on supermarket or shop shelves, is safe to eat in pregnancy. This is because the canning process requires pasteurization, or heat treatment at temperatures that kill bacteria (source: Science Direct).

The only rare exception would be if the tin is refrigerated in the shop or store (similar to fresh crab meat) which would suggest that it is not pasteurized.

“Shelf Stable” smoked salmon

Shelf-stable smoked salmon is usually safe for pregnant women.

“Shelf stable” is a food storage term used to describe ‘ambient’ goods, i.e. those presented on the shelf at room/shop temperature.

This type of salmon is usually vacuum sealed in a box and is NOT refrigerated in the shop or store.

If the salmon is in a fridge when it’s sold and needs to be kept that way, then it’s not “shelf stable”. Shelf-stable goods usually need refrigeration only after they have been opened.

Cold Smoked Salmon – UK only

Cold smoked, prepackaged salmon in the UK is considered to have a low risk of any parasitic infection due to the standards in rearing farmed salmon, which is usually the type cold-smoked for sale across Britain (source: NHS).

Wild cold-smoked salmon should have been frozen first – this may be difficult to check, but some packaging details whether this is the case.

If you’re not sure if it’s been frozen first, then it’s better to avoid it. Advice on cold-smoked salmon is different in the USA (see the list below).

Avoid any smoked salmon, of any type, that has been improperly stored. Even if smoked salmon is deemed ‘safe’, it’s still susceptible to develop listeria if not refrigerated properly and eaten well within its use-by date (source: Virginia Tech).

Pregnant women wishing to avoid even the low risk of listeriosis may wish to avoid smoked salmon completely, particularly if it hasn’t been prepared or stored at home.

Which Types of Smoked Salmon Are Unsafe For Pregnant Women?

cold smoked salmon
Cold smoked salmon slices

Cold Smoked Salmon – USA and other countries

In the USA and some other countries, the Food and Drug Administration advises pregnant women not to eat cold-smoked salmon (source: FDA).

This is the type of smoked salmon found refrigerated in delicatessens or supermarkets, whether packaged or not.

This is due to both the risk of infection from parasitic worms that may be present in fish that has not previously been frozen and also cross-contamination or poor storage which may cause listeria.

Cold-smoked salmon that carries the same risk may also be labeled as:

  • Lox
  • Gravadlax
  • Smoked salmon candy
  • Smoked salmon jerky
  • Kippered salmon
  • Nova lox
  • Nova style

Many of these types of salmon are cured, but not cooked, so are still unsuitable for pregnant women.

However, if the cold-smoked salmon product is cooked through, for example, in a stew or casserole, then it is considered safe to eat.

Smoked salmon Pâté

Smoked Salmon Pate is not safe for pregnant women, either hot or cold smoked. All types of pâté carry the risk of listeria (source: Journal of Food Protection).

Also, exercise caution with smoked salmon spreads, dips or cream cheese flavors as this may contain unpasteurized ingredients and/or cold-smoked salmon pieces, all of which are unsuitable for pregnant women.

Smoked Salmon Sushi

Sushi with smoked salmon in it should be viewed in the same way as any other slice of smoked salmon.

However, a roll containing hot smoked salmon which has been cooked thoroughly would be a safe option to eat in pregnancy, provided it hadn’t been mixed with other ingredients that may be unpasteurized, like mayonnaise.

If you want to eat sushi safely during pregnancy, check our our ultimate guide to sushi – including a safe sushi list.

Finally, other common dishes you might come across that often contain cold-smoked (and potentially unsafe) smoked salmon are:

– In a bagel with cream cheese
– as part of an eggs benedict ‘royale’ (which is also unsafe due to the egg in Hollandaise sauce)
-On blinis or toasts as canapes or nibbles
-in salads, sandwiches, and wraps (often with cream cheese)
-on some pizzas where it is added late in the cooking process
-On top of sushi or as sashimi

How Much Smoked Salmon Can I Eat Whilst Pregnant?

Although pregnant women are advised to eat fish regularly, pregnant women should not eat oily fish more than a couple of times a week, and this includes smoked salmon.

This is both due to a risk of mercury build-up and the potential for ingesting dioxins or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) which have been found in farmed fish (source: NHS).

The concentration is usually higher in the fatty parts of the fish, which aren’t always used to produce smoked salmon.

For more on PCBs and other toxins that may be in salmon, you may want to read this article I wrote about how safe salmon is for pregnant women.

Smoked salmon is high in protein and contains a number of B vitamins as well as vitamin D (source: USDA).

However, the smoking process means that it’s high in salt/sodium, so should be eaten in moderation. An average portion of smoked salmon is about 40g, or about 2oz.

Oily fish is an important source of omega 3, which is essential in pregnancy, but there are probably healthier options for oily fish in pregnancy such as mackerel, herring, unsmoked salmon or trout.

Overall, it might be better to have smoked salmon perhaps once a week, and chose a different oily fish for your other weekly option.

I’m Pregnant and Ate Smoked Salmon by Accident – What Should I Do?

It’s worth reiterating that the risk of either a parasitic infection or listeria from smoked salmon is low, so don’t panic!

Foodborne illnesses usually show symptoms one to three days after eating the contaminated food (source: FDA).

If it’s been longer than this, and you feel fine, then it’s likely that the smoked salmon was not contaminated.

In rare circumstances, you may feel ill faster – within half an hour, or it may take up to six weeks for any sort of sickness to develop.

Food poisoning can often be confused with other similar problems (such as morning sickness) but if you have:

  • nausea or vomiting
  • abdominal pain,
  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • flu-type symptoms
  • aches or an unusual headache

after eating smoked salmon then consult your doctor or healthcare provider straight away. Let them know what you ate, and when. It’s always better to be on the safe side.

This article has been reviewed and approved for publication in line with our editorial policy.

Gina Waggott, Medically Reviewed by Janet Gordon RD, MBDA

Gina is the owner and founder of Pregnancy Food Checker. She holds a Certification on Nutrition and Lifestyle during Pregnancy from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and a Diploma in Human Nutrition. Articles are medically reviewed by Janet Gordon RD, MBDA, a Registered Dietitian specializing in maternal health, including diabetes and obesity in pregnancy.

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