When you’re newly pregnant, one of the first things you’ll find out is that you should avoid soft or unpasteurized cheeses due to the risk of listeria. Usually, that’s pretty much all the advice you’ll be given, leaving you with the maddening questions: Yes, but which cheeses are pasteurized, and what is really meant by ‘soft cheese’ anyway?
That’s why I decided to create this ‘ultimate guide’ to cheese in pregnancy, along with common brand names and types. I cover whether certain cheeses are safe to eat if you’re pregnant and ways of making them safe, too. It’s split into three categories with lists of cheese – the safest, the maybes, and the cheeses all pregnant women should avoid.
The One Thing That Makes All Cheese Safe In Pregnancy
Before launching into the lists of safe/unsafe cheese, remember that heating cheese – of any type – kills listeria and therefore makes the cheese safe to eat if you’re pregnant. This includes any on the ‘unsafe’ list, because the ‘unsafe’ part only refers to the cheese being eaten cold or at room temperature.
If the cheese is cooked until steaming hot (and not just warm), then any listeria bacteria will be killed, and it will be safe to eat if you’re pregnant. Here are some examples of where ‘unsafe’ cheese becomes safe when heated:
- Baked or deep fried – for example, baked brie or deep fried camembert wedges. If the cheese is hot and steaming, and not just warm, then bacteria is killed and it’s safe to eat.
- On a pizza topping – for example, if you order a pizza topped with spinach and ricotta and the ricotta has been under the very high heat of the pizza oven (and comes out steaming hot), then it’s safe to eat. You can also read my article on eating pizza in pregnancy if you want to know more about cheese on pizzas, or other toppings.
- Grilled cheese – in a grilled cheese sandwich, a calzone folded pizza or melted in a panini or similar. Again, if the cheese is not just warm but hot, it’s OK to eat if you’re pregnant. Bear in mind that this may mean you have to cook the cheese or toast it for longer than you normally would.
- Cooked or baked in a recipe – for example, an onion and goat cheese tart, a hot cheese sauce like macaroni cheese, or melted into a dish like a risotto. These are all examples of where the cheese is safe as it’s been cooked as part of the dish, so will have been heated to temperatures hot enough to kill any bacteria.
If you’re ever in doubt about whether a cheese is safe, heat it up. The general guideline is ‘steaming hot’ (or in some cases, sizzling) as this is a visual way of telling how hot a cheese is. If you want to be totally sure, then use a thermometer and ensure the internal temperature of the cheese has reached 165F or 75c.
A list of common cheese dishes and whether they’re safe appears later in this article.
List of Hard Cheeses that are Safe in Pregnancy
All hard cheese is safe to eat in pregnancy, whether it’s made from unpasteurized milk or not. This is because hard cheese contains less water, so it’s unlikely that bacteria can thrive or grow in hard cheese (source: NHS). Note that all cheese probably has some surface bacteria (more so if it’s displayed openly or along with other items, such as in a deli fridge), but the risk is considered so low from hard cheese that it’s considered safe for pregnant women to eat.
In case you come across an unusual or uncommon cheese that isn’t mentioned here, a ‘hard’ cheese can be classified by whether it grates easily or not. For example, cheddar is a hard cheese – when you shred it, it’s easy. Havarti, on the other hand, is only a semi-soft cheese and not a hard one, because it still grates, but not cleanly and easily. This is a good rule of thumb if you’re dealing with a hard cheese you’re not familiar with.
Below is an alphabetical list of hard cheeses and their common brands (both pasteurized and unpasteurized) that are safe in pregnancy. These cheeses are safe no matter which forms they come in, for example, in sticks or shredded or grated:
- Asiago (e.g. iGormet, Mama Francesca, Stella, Rio Briati)
- Babybel – this is a brand name of a French version of Edam
- Cheddar (e.g. Kraft, Cabot, Cracker Barrel, Tillamook)
- Colby or Colby Jack (e.g. Boar’s Head, Tillamook, Sargento)
- Emmental (e.g. President, Arla, Madrigal)
- Gloucester (double or single)
- Goat Cheese – only if made into hard cheese, and not a soft traditional version such as chèvre
- Grana Padano (e.g. Belgiogioso, Sargento, iGourmet)
- Gruyère (e.g. President, Dietz & Watson)
- Italian – this is often a generic term for a cheese mixture or flavor, but if it’s hard or made of a hard cheese blend, it’s fine
- Manchego (e.g. Ponce de Leon, President, Aurora)
- Mimolette (e.g. Isigny)
- Monterey Jack (Applegate, Tillamook, Cabot)
- Parmigiano-Reggiano (parmesan) – all types, whether shredded, grated, or as a sprinklable powder
- Pecorino (e.g. Milano, Tamborino, Locatelli)
- Provolone (e.g. Sargento, Glacier Ridge, Alpine Lace)
- Riserva (Classico or otherwise)
- Stilton – yes, this is probably one of the only blue cheeses that is safe. This only applies to Stilton, not blue cheese in general, or Stilton copycats.
- Swiss (this could refer to many cheeses, or a blend, so check first)
- Wensleydale (all flavors, but not any blue versions)
List of Cheeses that are Safe in Pregnancy if made with Pasteurized Milk
The following cheeses are sometimes classed as medium-hard, semi-hard or semi-soft. A single type of cheese can be one or the other, depending on how long it has been aged. The important factor here is that these cheeses are only safe if made with pasteurized milk. I’ve listed brands that use pasteurized milk where possible.
- Bocconcini (also called mini mozzarella)
- Cheese curds – made from pasteurized hard cheese e.g. cheddar curds
- Cottage cheese – all flavors
- Fontina (e.g. Belgiogioso, iGourmet, Sartori)
- Halloumi – you may want to read my article on eating halloumi safely in pregnancy
- Havarti (e.g. Dofino, Denmark’s Finest)
- Mascarpone (e.g. Cello, Gelmini, Galbani)
- Mozzarella (e.g. Galbani, Sargento, Kraft, Belgioioso) but not Burrata
- Muenster(e.g. Land O Lakes, Organic Valley, Dietz & Watson)
- Paneer (e.g. Gopi, Nanak, Joy)
- Pizza cheese (usually a blend including mozzarella, so check first)
- Ricotta (e.g. Sartori, Frigo, Galbani)
List of Cheeses That Are Unsafe in Pregnancy
The following cheeses are usually classed as ‘soft cheese’ or ‘mold-ripened’ cheese and are therefore unsafe for pregnant women to eat if they’re not heated up until hot. Some of these cheeses are also traditionally made with unpasteurized milk, especially if you’re eating the cheese in Europe or importing it directly from there.
None of the cheeses on this list are safe in pregnancy unless they are heated or cooked, even if made from pasteurized milk:
- Blue cheese (including blue cheese dressing)
- Brie (including blue brie and smoked brie)
- Burrata (a type of mozzarella with a liquid cream center). This is only safe if the cream is pasteurized or ultra heat-treated.
- Camembert – unless baked until hot
- Chevre or other soft, spreadable goat cheeses with a mold rind
- Danish blue
- Goat with a mold rind- unless it’s a hard, cheddar-like goat cheese
- Gorgonzola – all types
- Queso fresco – ‘fresh’ Hispanic cheeses like queso fresco are traditionally made from unpasteurized milk and are one of the leading causes of listeria in cheese. All ‘fresh’ style (also called farm style) cheeses should be avoided.
Dishes and Recipes Containing Cheese – Are They Safe in Pregnancy?
Of course, we don’t all eat cheese on its own. There are many dishes containing cheese that pregnant women wonder about, so I’ve tried to include as many as possible here, with an explanation of whether or not they’re safe in pregnancy.
- American cheese – this is a generic term for a processed type cheese (usually colored orange). As it’s processed, it will be made from pasteurized milk and it’s safe to eat in pregnancy.
- Baked or deep fried cheese – for example, halloumi fries, baked brie or camembert, or breaded and fried cheese. All these are safe if the cheese is heated until steaming hot, rather than just merely warmed.
- Boursin, Roule or Cheese and Chive ‘rolls’ – these are commercially-made spreadable cheeses so will more than likely be made from pasteurized milk, and are therefore safe to eat in pregnancy.
- Cheese dips (including cheese and chive) – if these are homemade, check for the presence of any raw egg, cheese made from unpasteurized milk, or whether they contain soft cheeses as these can’t be eaten at cold, dip temperature. If they are commercially made or ‘big brand’ (e.g.
- Cheese in a sandwich or roll – most sandwich cheese is either processed or hard cheese, but check first. Both processed cheese and hard cheeses (listed earlier in this article) are safe to eat in sandwiches. However, be aware that some of the cheeses you should avoid when pregnant also appear in sandwiches sometimes, for example, brie or gorgonzola.
- Cheese salad – commercially produced cheese salads (the type you buy in a tub from the supermarket) are usually made with hard cheese and have a mayo dressing also made from pasteurized egg. These are safe to eat if you’re pregnant, however, double-check the ingredients first. Always check what is in home-made cheese salad if you haven’t prepared it yourself.
- Cheese sauce – including powdered cheese sauce kits – if it’s branded or commercially manufactured then the cheese sauce will be made from pasteurized ingredients and be safe for pregnant women to eat. Some other types of cheese sauce, for example at fine-dining restaurants, may be made with raw egg as a thickening agent – check the ingredients first. Blue cheese sauce should be avoided in pregnancy as it’s usually not heated up enough for it to be made safe.
- Cheesecake – baked cheesecakes are safe to eat in pregnancy, however, fridge-set ‘no-bake’ types are not. I wrote another article that provides an in-depth look at whether or not cheesecake is safe in pregnancy.
- Cream Cheese & cheese spread – the general rule of thumb is that any commercial cream cheese (like Philadelphia and similar brands) are made from pasteurized milk so are safe for pregnant women. I also wrote a guide to eating cream cheese and cheese spread in pregnancy.
- Cheez Whiz – This is a processed cheese product made from pasteurized ingredients, and is pregnancy-safe.
- Fondue – if made traditionally, fondue should only contain hard cheese such as Gruyere, which is safe if pregnant. However, bear in mind that fondue usually also contains wine, too – which won’t be cooked off as the temperatures reached aren’t high enough. If you didn’t prepare the fondue then ask what’s in it.
- Macaroni Cheese (also known as mac & cheese) – popular brands such as Annies or Kraft mac and cheese are safe in pregnancy as the powdered cheese mix is made from pasteurized ingredients. If eating homemade mac and cheese, make sure hard cheese (such as cheddar) is used. This is usually the case, so most mac and cheese is safe for pregnant women.
- Nacho cheese – this isn’t really a cheese, but a cheese dip. If made with hard, shredded or grated cheese, it’s fine to eat if you’re pregnant. It’s very rare that nacho cheese is made with anything else, but it’s always a good idea to ask what’s in the nacho cheese you’re about to eat.
- Pimento cheese – if it’s commercially manufactured (Kraft’s Pimento cheese, for example) then it will be made from pasteurized milk and is OK in pregnancy. If it’s homemade, check that any mayo in the pimento cheese is made with pasteurized eggs.
- Primula cheese – Primula is a processed spreadable cheese. It’s made with pasteurized ingredients and is processed, so Primula is safe for pregnant women to eat.
- Processed & sliced cheese singles – these are the type of cheese slices you buy to put in sandwiches (with the waxy paper between them). Common brands include Kraft, Borden or Horizon). They’re also commonly found in burgers or hot sandwiches. This cheese is processed, and is safe to eat in pregnancy.
- Smoked cheese – this should be treated the same way as any other cheese. For example, smoked brie should still be avoided in pregnancy as it’s still a soft cheese. Smoking somewhat reduces the likelihood of bacteria surviving in the cheese, however it should still be avoided if it’s on the “no” list in its unsmoked form. If a safe cheese is smoked (for example, Applewood smoked cheddar) then this is also safe to eat when you’re pregnant.
- Snacking cheese, sticks & string cheese – these really depend on whether they’re processed, which most of them are. Snacking cheeses like Babybel or string cheese are processed products that are safe to eat in pregnancy. Most are made from pasteurized milk and should, therefore, be safe, however check the ingredients list if you’re unsure.
- Strong or sharp cheese – if you’re pregnant, the strength or sharpness of a cheese has no bearing on whether it’s safe in pregnancy. If you like strong, hard cheese like a vintage cheddar, or any other strong cheese on the safe list, then go ahead!
- Triangles (e.g. Laughing cow, Dairylea) – these are processed cheese products and are made from pasteurized milk, so they’re safe to eat in pregnancy.
- Velveeta – similar to other processed products, this is made from pasteurized ingredients and is safe for pregnant women to consume.