Can I eat pepperoni and salami while pregnant?

Eating cured and processed meats like pepperoni and salami during pregnancy is a controversial topic. While these meats are not strictly off-limits, they do come with some risks that are important to understand before deciding whether to eat them.

The Main Concerns with Eating Pepperoni and Salami in Pregnancy

There are two main concerns with eating pepperoni, salami and other cured/processed meats during pregnancy:

  • Nitrates/Nitrites – These preservatives are commonly used to cure meats like pepperoni and salami. In large amounts, nitrates/nitrites may affect blood flow to the baby and potentially cause complications.
  • Listeria – Processed meats have been linked to outbreaks of Listeria, a dangerous food-borne bacteria that can cause pregnancy complications like miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth.

Are Nitrates/Nitrites in Pepperoni and Salami Harmful?

Pepperoni and salami contain sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite to prevent bacterial growth and preserve the pink/red color. In large amounts, nitrates/nitrites can form compounds called nitrosamines in the body, which may affect blood flow and oxygen transport to the unborn baby.

However, most experts agree the nitrate/nitrite levels from eating cured meats in moderation are not a major cause for concern. The potentially negative effects seem to occur at very high intakes.

To be safe, don’t overindulge. The recommended acceptable daily intake is around 0.07 mg nitrate per 1 lb (0.45 kg) body weight.

Nitrate/Nitrite Content of Pepperoni and Salami

Here are some estimates for the average nitrate/nitrite content in pepperoni and salami:

  • Pepperoni: around 4–8 mg sodium nitrite per 1 oz (28g) serving
  • Genoa salami: 0.35–0.7 mg nitrates per 1 oz (28 g)

As you can see, a typical serving of either pepperoni or salami has well under the acceptable daily intake level for pregnant women. Unless you plan to eat very large amounts, nitrate/nitrite content is unlikely to be an issue.

Can Pepperoni or Salami Cause Listeria Poisoning?

Listeria monocytogenes is a harmful bacteria that can contaminate many foods, including processed and cured meats like pepperoni and salami. Pregnant women are at higher risk of infection.

Listeria is killed by cooking and pasteurization. However, because pepperoni and salami are eaten cooked or ready-to-eat without cooking, there is a risk of bacteria being present.

Listeria causes an illness called listeriosis. Symptoms are similar to flu, but it can be very dangerous for pregnant women and may cause:

  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Premature delivery
  • Life-threatening infection in the newborn

Thankfully, listeriosis is rare in pregnancy, but the risks make it important to be cautious with high-risk foods like processed meats.

How to Avoid Listeria from Pepperoni and Salami

To minimize the small risk of listeriosis from pepperoni or salami, follow these food safety practices:

  • Avoid eating deli and pre-packaged pepperoni or salami. The risk is lower with freshly sliced than pre-packaged.
  • Cook processed meats until steaming hot before eating.
  • Practice good food hygiene – wash hands, utensils and surfaces after handling pepperoni and salami.
  • Don’t eat these meats if they look or smell bad.

Are There Any Health Benefits to Eating Them?

There are no particular health benefits linked to eating pepperoni and salami during pregnancy. As highly processed meats, they tend to be high in sodium, nitrates/nitrites and saturated fat:

  • Sodium: Processed meats are one of the major sources of dietary sodium. Too much can contribute to high blood pressure.
  • Saturated fat: High intake is linked to increased cholesterol levels and heart disease risk.
  • No nutritional value: These meats provide protein and fat, but minimal beneficial vitamins and minerals.

While small amounts as part of an overall healthy diet are fine, there is no nutritional reason why pepperoni or salami would need to be consumed during pregnancy.

Official Guidelines for Eating Processed Meat in Pregnancy

Most government health agencies provide only general guidance on eating deli meats and do not single out specific types like pepperoni and salami.

Here are the official recommendations on processed meats from prominent health organizations:

United States

  • CDC: Pregnant women are advised to avoid eating refrigerated pâté or meat spreads. Leftover foods should be reheated until steaming hot.
  • FDA: Pregnant women should only eat luncheon meat or deli-type meat if thoroughly cooked until steaming hot.
  • USDA: Avoid unpasteurized soft cheeses and deli meats unless reheated until steaming hot before eating.


  • Health Canada: Pregnant women should avoid deli meats and spreads, such as pâté, unless heated until steaming hot just before serving.

United Kingdom

  • NHS: Pregnant women can eat cooked meats provided they are piping hot with no pink/red in the center. Avoid chilled pre-cooked meats like pepperoni unless heated until steaming.


  • NSW Food Authority: Do not eat ready-to-eat meat products such as ham, salami and cooked diced chicken when pregnant unless heated thoroughly.

The overall advice is to avoid eating pre-packaged deli-style meats including salami and pepperoni cold. However, the risks are minimized if these meats are thoroughly cooked until hot and steaming before eating.

Opinions on Eating Pepperoni and Salami During Pregnancy

There are conflicting opinions on whether or not it is safe to eat cured/processed meats like pepperoni and salami when pregnant. Here are some views from medical groups and experts:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

“Deli meats have not been conclusively linked to adverse health effects when pregnant women eat them in moderation. Enjoy deli meats occasionally as part of balanced diet.”

American Pregnancy Association

“We recommend avoiding cold deli meats during pregnancy. The bacteria listeriosis can be harmful and lead to complications. If you can’t resist, make sure to heat the meat first.”

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)

“Pregnant women should avoid eating hot dogs, deli meats and soft cheeses due to the risk of listeria contamination unless they are heated until steaming hot.”

Dr. Jennifer Kickham – OB/GYN

“I advise my pregnant patients to avoid deli meats altogether. Even if heated, there is still a small risk. It’s better to simply avoid these higher-risk foods.”

As you can see, some experts believe occasional moderate intake is fine, while others recommend pregnant women avoid pepperoni, salami and other deli meats altogether.

The Bottom Line

Although most official guidelines do not prohibit eating pepperoni and salami in pregnancy, these processed meats do come with some risks.

To completely avoid any chance of listeria infection, it may be best to exclude them. However, heating until piping hot before eating greatly reduces the risks.

If you choose to eat pepperoni and salami when pregnant, follow these precautions:

  • Avoid pre-packaged versions and opt for freshly sliced.
  • Cook thoroughly until steaming hot with no pink inside.
  • Eat in moderation – limit to 2-3 times per week at most.
  • Practice safe food handling and hygiene.

Also, make sure to choose low-sodium options and balance out with plenty of healthier foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and lean proteins.

While many pregnant women can enjoy the occasional pepperoni pizza or salami sandwich with no problems, it’s smart to be informed on the potential risks and how to minimize them.

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