Can you eat Christmas ham off the bone when pregnant?

In this brief guide, we will answer the question, can you eat Christmas ham off the bone when pregnant? We will discuss reasons to avoid Christmas ham off the bone and the things to keep in check if you eat Christmas off the bone.

Can you eat Christmas ham off the bone when pregnant?

Yes, you can eat Christmas ham off the bone when you are pregnant; only if it is thoroughly cooked. Ham is cooked only partially if it is smoked, brined, or baked. You must not eat uncooked, or semi-cooked meat when you are pregnant, which includes cured or smoked ham.

You need to avoid cured meat when you are pregnant because it can have contaminants such as Toxoplasma Gondi, Salmonella, and Listeria that can make you sick. Other organisms that can cause food poisoning, including Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. Coli, also may lead to health complications for pregnant women, unborn babies, and newborns (2).

Listeria monocytogenes is an emerging food borne pathogen capable of causing serious invasive disease with mortality rates ranging between 80% and 99% primarily in neonates, immunocompromised adults and pregnant women. It was estimated that 99% of listeriosis cases occur due to food borne transmission of the bacteria. In humans, the average case—fatality rate of listeriosis is between 20% and 30% even with adequate antimicrobial treatments (1).

Ham off the bone is also a brand name for smoked deli meat, that you must not eat when pregnant (2). The foods flagged as high risk include deli meat and ready-to-eat meat products (such as cooked, cured and/or fermented meats and sausages), soft cheeses and cold smoked fishery products (1).

You can eat piping hot homemade Christmas ham if it is cooked all the way through. Christmas ham or ham off the bone is usually served cold. However, if you are pregnant, you will need to cook it to 165 degrees325 Fahrenheit, to ensure that it is safe for you and your baby (2). 

Can you get Listeria or Toxoplasmosis by eating ham off the bone while pregnant?

You can get Listeria from eating undercooked ham off the bone. Listeria is one of the deadly food-borne illnesses that affect people over the age of 65, pregnant women, and immunocompromised people. WHO warns that pregnant women, the elderly or individuals with a weakened immune system, such as people with immunocompromised status due to HIV/AIDS, leukemia, cancer, kidney transplant and steroid therapy, are at greatest risk of severe listeriosis and should avoid high risk foods (1).

Uncooked pork meat also carries Toxoplasma Gondii that can be deadly, its prevalence rate can be as high as 72 percent in pork meat such as ham. A multicenter epidemiologic study among pregnant women in Europe identified meat ingestion as the major source of Toxoplasma infection (30%–63% of cases). Of the meat sources, pork has always been considered to be a major source of Toxoplasma infection (3). 

Toxoplasma Gondii is a parasite that can attack people of all ages. When it affects a pregnant woman, it can cause the death of the fetus. Otherwise, it will cause the fetus to have cerebral calcification, blindness, and other deadly and rare conditions (2).

You must also avoid eating Parma ham, serrano ham, pancetta, black forest ham, city ham, and cold-smoked ham when you are pregnant. 

While pork is treated with salt and nitrites to get rid of the parasites, it is not as effective as cooking it. A study found that five eight brands of commercial no-nitrate-or-nitrite frankfurters supported greater L.monocytogenes growth than did traditionally cured control frankfurters when subjected to challenge study (4).

What is ham off the bone?

Ham of the bone or Christmas ham or baked ham mean the same thing; deli ham that is cured and smoked and sometimes baked as well. 

Ham off the bone is packed with natural meat juices, and cured with salt, water, sugar, potassium lactate, sodium lactate, sodium phosphates, sodium diacetates, sodium erythorbate, and sodium nitrite. 

Prepared from whole pork leg, ham is manufactured according to ancient traditions: changes that occur are mainly related to water loss, stabilization through salt diffusion, intensive proteolysis and lipolysis with the subsequent development of the typical avour of the product. The long drying and maturing periods are both fundamental to address sensory characteristics which make dry-cured ham widely appreciated. Cooked ham is prepared from deboned pork legs flavored with a special mixture of aromas (salt, pepper, juniper and laurel) and then steam-cooked at about 70°C, (addition of nitrate and nitrite is permitted to both smoked and cooked hams). Smoked ham is obtained from the deboned pork leg, seasoned with a mixture of spices and prepared by the combination of two preservation methods: smoking and salting (5).

The packaging on the product named Ham off the bone label says that it has 2 percent iron, 12 percent cholesterol and 28 percent is sodium. It gives you more reasons to avoid Ham off the bone if you are pregnant. Ham off the bone is one of the most processed foods with around 80 to 95 percent pork, while the rest of it is additive.

If you cannot have fresh meat, then you can get healthy deli options, such as roast beef, or shredded roast chicken. Cook them for a few minutes to make sure that it gets rid of all the bacteria. 

When you are pregnant you must avoid any steak, beef, sausages, burgers, roast meat, that is not cooked to doneness. Meat that you can eat while you are pregnant must not have any traces of pink and must be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees 0 Fahrenheit (2).

Ham is from pork, hence carrieshence, carries a risk of causing toxoplasmosis. Pork has parasites that can make you sick and cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and birth defects (2). 

Cured and unfermented meat is usually uncooked. To be sure, you must consult the package before you eat. 

You can eat ham that says it was fully cooked on the package or if you heat it to high temperature to make it safe. 

You can eat cooked pepperoni and cold-cooked roast ham. You must also avoid all types of pate and cured or fermented meat such as Parma ham and salami during your pregnancy. Sources of Toxoplasma infection include the ingestion of undercooked or inadequately cured meat containing encysted parasites or the uptake of soil (3). All ready-to-eat meats products, such as cooked, cured and/or fermented meats and sausages, are also high risk foods regarding Listeriosis (1).

Also, if you freeze your pork dishes, prior to cooking, it makes it safer. Freezing your ham for four days immobilizes the parasites, but it does not kill them. Be sure to cook it thoroughly before eating (2). 

Other FAQs about Ham that you may be interested in.

How to store a Christmas ham?

Can you freeze a spiral ham?

Can you freeze leftover Christmas ham?

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we answered the question, can you eat Christmas ham off the bone when pregnant? We discussed reasons to avoid Christmas ham off the bone and the things to keep in check if you eat Christmas off the bone.

Citations

  1. Chukwu, Emelda E., and Francisca O. Nwaokorie. Listeriosis knowledge and attitude among Pregnant Women attending a tertiary Health Institution, South western Nigeria. Adv Infect Dis, 2020, 10, 64-75.
  2. FOOD SAFETY For Pregnant Women, Their Unborn Babies, and Children Under Five. 2022. US Food and Drug Administration. 
  3. Kijlstra, Aize, et al. Toxoplasma gondii infection in animal-friendly pig production systems. Invest ophthalmol visual sci, 2004, 45, 3165-3169.
  4. Sullivan, Gary A., et al. Inhibition of Listeria monocytogenes using natural antimicrobials in no-nitrate-or-nitrite-added ham. J food protect, 2012, 75, 1071-1076.
  5. Lucarini, Massimo, et al. Micronutrients in Italian ham: A survey of traditional products. Food Chem. 2013, 140, 837-842.