Can you eat Christmas ham when pregnant? (7 Things to be careful of)

In this brief guide, we will answer the question, Can you eat Christmas ham when pregnant? We will discuss the Christmas ham that you can eat and others you need to avoid. We will also discuss how to ensure that your ham and meat stay safe for you and your baby. 

Can you eat Christmas ham when pregnant?

Listeriosis is a foodborne disease that affects humans worldwide. With a mortality rate of 20% and recurring foodborne outbreaks, listeriosis remains a significant public health concern. Disseminated infections are of particular concern in pregnant women, as Listeria monocytogenes can spread to the placenta, fetus, and/or neonate. Approximately 14% of clinically recognized cases occur during pregnancy (1).

You can eat Christmas ham if it is cooked all the way through. Homemade Christmas ham is bought raw from the butcher and prepared while deli meat is either eaten straight from the packet or precooked.

If your Christmas ham is from a deli, it is precooked by smoking, curing, or baking; you cannot eat it when you are pregnant. It may be safe for some people but for high-risk individuals, and pregnant women it is a threat. To eat deli meat, it is necessary to reheat it at 165°F or to steaming hot (6).

Foods typically associated with listeriosis include refrigerated ready-toe at perishable foods with  a long shelf life that are eaten without further cooking. Outbreaks have involved foods such as coleslaw, Mexican-style soft cheeses, milk, pâté, pork tongue, cantaloupe, hot dogs, processed meats and deli salads, raw milk products, raw and smoked seafood, and any refrigerated ready-to eat processed foods, such as hot dogs, luncheon meats or deli meats, that have not been heated to proper temperatures before serving (5).

Pregnant women are more susceptible to food-borne infections. During pregnancy, changes in hormones cause a woman’s immune system to become suppressed, so that it is harder to fight off infections. Pre-cooked or semi-cooked meat can cause miscarriage, and stillbirth or harm the fetus; causing illnesses and deformities (5). 

Christmas Deli ham is usually served cold. However, if you are pregnant, you will need to cook it to 165 degrees 325 Fahrenheit or make sure it is steaming hot when it is served to you to ensure that is safe for you and your baby (6). 

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

How can you make ham safe for you when pregnant?

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. Raw meats must be cooked at 145°F and ground meats must be cooked at 165°F (6).

Also, if you freeze your pork dishes, prior to cooking, if it is to be stored. Cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria, but it does not kill them (6).it makes it safer. Freezing your ham for four days immobilizes the parasites temporarily and slows down their growth. Be sure to cook it thoroughly before eating (6). 

Why do you need to avoid Christmas ham when pregnant?

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 (6). 

While pork is treated with salt and nitrites to get rid of the parasites, it is not as effective as cooking it. 

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 1650 Fahrenheit.

Listeria

You can get Listeria from eating undercooked ham. Listeriosis is 18 times more common in pregnancy than in the non-pregnant population (4). Pregnant women are 10 times more susceptible to the Listeria bacteria. 

Listeria is one of the deadly food-borne illnesses that affect people over the age of 65, pregnant women, and immunocompromised people. Listeriosis is linked with malignancy, immunosuppressive therapy, AIDS, pregnancy and the neonate. This might be because Listeria activates T-cell mediated immunity which, under the influence of cytokines, attracts macrophages that produce inflammatory granulomas where bacteria are destroyed. Memory T-cells provide an acquired resistance to Listeria infection (4).

The symptoms of  Listeriosis can be identified as fever, chills, muscle aches, diarrhea, vomiting, flu-like symptoms, headache, and poor mental function.

However, in other cases, pregnant women may not experience any symptoms of the infection (4). However, this does not mean that it is not capable of harming the baby. 

 Toxoplasma Gondii

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, whereas beef has not been shown to contain infectious Toxoplasma parasites (8).

 Toxoplasma Gondi 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.  The most common manifestations are nontender lymphadenopathy, fatigue, headache, malaise and myalgia. The infection is usually self-limited and requires no treatment. First trimester fetal infection on the other hand, often results in miscarriage, stillbirth, or severe sequelae in the newborn. Most infants with congenital toxoplasmosis (70-90%) are asymptomatic or without apparent abnormalities at birth (7).

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

What else should you take care of when pregnant?

You must avoid eating Parma ham, serrano ham, pancetta, black forest ham, city ham, and cold-smoked ham when you are pregnant. Hot dogs, deli meats, and luncheons must be steaming hot when they are served (6). 

You must not eat pate or meat spreads, they can cause food-borne illnesses. Also avoid refrigerated smoked seafood such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, or mackerel. 

However, you can eat meat spreads, pate, and smoked meats that are shelf-stable; not stored in the refrigerator (6). 

Any kind of meat, seafood, or pork must not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. As important as cooking meat thoroughly is, refrigeration is too. Refrigeration ensures that potential bacteria do not multiply and become capable of harming either you or your child (6).

It is also crucial to keep meat and meat dishes covered at all times, to prevent introducing environmental contaminants to the food.

Other FAQs about Ham that you may be interested in.

Can you eat Christmas ham without cooking?

Can you eat Christmas ham off the bone when pregnant?

How to store a Christmas ham?

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we answered the question, Can you eat Christmas ham when pregnant? We discussed the Christmas ham that you can eat and others you need to avoid. We also discussed how to ensure that your ham and meat stay safe for you and your baby. 

Citations

  1. Morrison, Holly A., et al. In vivo virulence characterization of pregnancy-associated Listeria monocytogenes infections. Infect immun, 2018, 86, e00397-18.
  2. Fresh Pork from Farm to Table. US Department of Agriculture. 2013.
  3. Zwietering, Marcel H., et al. Relevance of microbial finished product testing in food safety management. Food Control, 2016, 60, 31-43.
  4. Lamont RF, Sobel J, Mazaki-Tovi S, et al. Listeriosis in human pregnancy: a systematic review. J Perinat Med. 2011, 39, 227-236.
  5. Dean, J., and P. Kendall. Food safety during pregnancy. Food and nutrition series. 2004. Food safety 9, 372. Colorado State University.
  6. FOOD SAFETY For Pregnant Women, Their Unborn Babies, and Children Under Five. 2022. US Food and Drug Administration. 
  7. Giannoulis C, Zournatzi B, Giomisi A, Diza E, Tzafettas I. Toxoplasmosis during pregnancy: a case report and review of the literature. Hippokratia, 2008, 12, 139-143.
  8. Kijlstra, Aize, et al. Toxoplasma gondii infection in animal-friendly pig production systems. Invest ophthalmol visual sci, 2004, 45, 3165-3169.