If you're pregnant, you probably want to take every precaution to ensure a healthy baby, including being careful about the foods you eat. While cheese serves as a good source of calcium and protein, soft and semi-soft cheeses like gorgonzola can sometimes cause harm to an unborn baby. Talk to your doctor about the risks of soft cheeses and which types to avoid during pregnancy.
Soft cheeses first became a cause for concern in the 1980s, when they were associated with an outbreak of listeriosis, a disease caused by the listeria bacterium. According to Elliot T. Ryser and Elmer H. Marth in their book, "Listeria, Listerosis and Food Safety," the most significant outbreak of listeriosis occurred in 1985 in Los Angeles. The outbreak, which occurred over the course of eight months, included 142 cases of listeriosis, 93 of whom were pregnant women. Among the pregnant women, there was a 32 percent fatality rate. All of these were fetal deaths or neonatal deaths. A type of Mexican-style soft cheese was suspected to be the cause, Ryser and Marth noted.
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According to Baby Center, the link between soft cheeses and listeria infection is related to the use of unpasteurized milk in cheese production. Also known as "raw" milk, unpasteurized milk can carry the listeria monocytogenes bacterium as well as various other disease-causing organisms. Pregnant women are more than 20 times more likely to be infected by listeria than other adults, reports Baby Center. You should also avoid unpasteurized milk and any other dairy products made from it, since any unpasteurized dairy product can carry this bacteria as well as others.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, several types of soft cheese can increase your risk of developing listeria infection. These cheeses include Brie, camembert, roquefort, feta, gorgonzola and Mexican-style cheeses that include queso blanco and queso fresco. Talk to your doctor prior to eating any of these cheeses during pregnancy. Because listeria can cross the placenta when it enters your body, it can infect your baby and cause blood poisoning, reports the American Pregnancy Association.
Based on the various warnings about gorgonzola and other semi-soft and soft cheeses, many pregnant women feel they must avoid these cheeses altogether. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stipulates that you can eat soft cheeses if their labels indicate that they are pasteurized. There are pasteurized versions of some of these cheeses, including gorgonzola.
Symptoms of Listeriosis
Pregnant women are more susceptible than the general population to listeria, possibly because a pregnant women's immune system is somewhat compromised. Listeriosis can cause a flu-like illness, with fever, muscle aches and stomach upset, including diarrhea. If the infection affects the nervous system, it can cause headache, stiff neck, confusion, poor balance or seizures. Call your doctor immediately if you feel you might have listeriosis. Antibiotics can treat the infection.