Prosciutto is generally named on lists of foods that pregnant women should avoid. This meat, often served cold, poses a slight but serious risk to the woman and her unborn baby because it can cause a food-borne illness called listeria. According to "The Pregnancy Cookbook," there are ways you can prepare prosciutto to ensure that it is safe to consume, but many pregnant women choose to avoid it altogether, just to be safe.
Prosciutto is Italian ham that is cured in salt as opposed to cooked with heat. If it is cured or stored improperly, it can carry listeria, a type of bacteria that causes the food-borne illness listeriosis. This bacteria can also be present in other types of cured meats, such as hot dogs and sausages, as well as lunch meat.
When you ingest meat that contains listeria, you can develop listeriosis. Though this type of infection is rare, the American Pregnancy Association cautions pregnant women in particular to take the threat seriously. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that pregnant women are 20 times more likely to develop listeriosis than non-pregnant people, and it is most common in the third trimester. Symptoms of listeriosis in pregnant women include nausea, fever, headaches and muscle aches. The illness can also spread to the nervous system, causing a stiff neck, convulsions and disorientation.
Listeriosis' risks to an unborn child are very serious. Even if the pregnant woman experiences no symptoms, the bacterial infection can still spread to the fetus and cause complications. Listeriosis can lead to miscarriage, as well as premature labor and delivery. If it is transmitted to the baby, it can cause birth defects and even death. The American Pregnancy Association estimates that about 22 percent of listeria cases in pregnant women lead to stillbirth or neonatal death.
The CDC recommends that pregnant women do not eat cured meats such as prosciutto and hot dogs, as well as luncheon meats, unless they've been heated in the microwave until they're steaming. They should reach a temperature of about 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, avoid cross-contamination by preparing these foods on separate spaces from the food that you are going to eat.
The CDC says that, as long as you prepare the meat properly, you can eat prosciutto during pregnancy. However, you should never ingest cold prosciutto, nor should you eat it in restaurants. If you have eaten cold prosciutto and have no symptoms, the CDC says you do not need to see your doctor immediately, though you should mention it to him. If you develop flu-like symptoms, you should tell your health care provider so he can prescribe antibiotics.