What happens if you eat cold pepperoni while pregnant?

Eating cold deli meats like pepperoni when pregnant is generally not recommended. Cold cuts and deli meats carry a slight risk of contamination with listeria, a type of bacteria that can cause pregnancy complications like miscarriage, preterm labor, and stillbirth. While the risk is small, it’s better to take precautions and avoid eating cold pepperoni and other deli meats unless they are thoroughly heated beforehand.

Is it safe to eat cold cuts while pregnant?

Cold cuts, lunch meats, and deli meats like pepperoni, ham, turkey, roast beef etc. are not recommended during pregnancy unless thoroughly cooked first. This is because cold cuts have been linked to an increased risk of listeriosis, an infection caused by the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

Listeria is killed by high temperatures, so thoroughly cooking deli meats to steaming hot destroys any potential bacteria and makes it safe to eat. However, ready-to-eat cold cuts are not heated to high enough temperatures to kill Listeria before packaging and sale. Therefore, there is a small chance that contaminated deli meats can cause Listeria infection, known as listeriosis.

Pregnant women are about 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis. This is because pregnancy naturally weakens the immune system and makes it harder to fight off infections. Listeria can cross the placenta and infect the fetus, potentially leading to pregnancy complications.

What kind of complications can Listeria cause?

If a pregnant woman gets infected with Listeria, the consequences can be serious. Potential pregnancy complications include:

  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Preterm labor and delivery
  • Life-threatening infection in the newborn baby

Symptoms of listeriosis are similar to flu symptoms like fever, muscle aches, nausea or diarrhea. Pregnant women who experience these symptoms should contact their doctor right away and get tested for Listeria.

What are the chances of getting Listeria from deli meats?

The overall risk of getting Listeria infection from deli meats is low. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that deli meats are responsible for about 1,600 illnesses each year in the U.S. However, the vast majority of healthy people exposed to Listeria will not get sick.

For pregnant women, the risk is higher but still quite small. One study found the risk of listeriosis from deli meats was about 1 in every 200 pregnant women. So while it’s not highly likely, the consequences are so severe that avoiding cold cuts is recommended out of an abundance of caution.

Are some deli meats riskier than others?

Yes, certain ready-to-eat deli meats appear to carry more risk than others. Deli meats that have been linked to Listeria outbreaks include:

  • Pepperoni
  • Ham
  • Salami
  • Hot dogs
  • Luncheon/deli meat sandwiches
  • Soft cheeses like feta, Brie, Camembert

Pâté and meat spreads are also risky. So pepperoni and salami seem to be among the highest risk deli meats for pregnant women to avoid.

Can you eat pepperoni while pregnant if it’s microwaved?

Yes, it should be safe to eat pepperoni during pregnancy if it is heated until steaming hot first. Heating deli meats to an internal temperature of 165°F kills any Listeria bacteria that may be present.

You can heat up pepperoni in a microwave or on the stovetop in a skillet until it is hot all the way through. Make sure there are no cold spots remaining. Leftover microwaved pepperoni should be discarded after sitting out for more than two hours.

Other reheating options include baking cold pepperoni on a pizza, in a casserole, or in a pepperoni roll where the filling will get hot enough to eliminate Listeria risks.

Can you eat pepperoni cold if you microwave it first?

No, it is not recommended to eat previously microwaved pepperoni cold. Listeria can still grow in the microwaved pepperoni after it cools down. Pepperoni needs to be reheated fully right before eating to ensure safety.

What about prepackaged pepperoni?

There could still be a risk from eating prepackaged pepperoni and salami without further cooking. Bacteria like Listeria can contaminate the processing equipment used to slice, pack and seal the meat.

Unless the packaging indicates that the contents have been cooked, prepackaged pepperoni should be treated the same as regular deli pepperoni. Take precautions and heat it thoroughly until steaming immediately before eating.

Can you eat pepperoni pizza while pregnant?

It’s generally considered safe to eat pepperoni pizza while pregnant since the meat toppings are cooked thoroughly during baking at high oven temperatures. The pepperoni would reach an internal temperature of at least 165°F which kills any Listeria present.

However, there are a few precautions pregnant women may want to take with pepperoni pizza:

  • Make sure the pepperoni pizza is thoroughly heated all the way through, not just lukewarm
  • Avoid taking cold leftover pizza from the fridge – reheat it until hot
  • Don’t let baked pizza with pepperoni sit out for more than 2 hours before reheating
  • Consider reheating cold pepperoni pizza slices in the oven or toaster oven rather than the microwave to ensure even heating

Can you get Listeria from pre-cooked frozen pepperoni?

Properly pre-cooked frozen pepperoni should be safe for pregnant women. Reputable manufacturers use cooking methods and controls that eliminate the risk of Listeria in frozen pre-cooked pepperoni before freezing.

As long as the pepperoni is heated according to package directions until steaming hot immediately before serving, pre-cooked frozen varieties do not carry the same risks as regular deli pepperoni. But it’s still a good idea to take standard Listeria precautions like avoiding cross-contamination and leftover pizza that sits out too long.

What are some low-risk alternatives to pepperoni?

Pregnant women looking to reduce the risks from deli meats can try some safer alternatives to pepperoni:

  • Pepperoni made from chicken, turkey or soy instead of pork
  • Cooked meatballs, sausage crumbles or bacon bits on pizza
  • Vegetable or mushroom pizza toppings
  • Pre-cooked chicken strips, meatballs or sausages
  • Canned tuna, salmon or crabmeat (in moderation due to mercury content)
  • Hummus, bean or lentil spreads
  • Peanut butter or other nut butters
  • Hard cheeses like cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan

Tips for eating deli meats safely during pregnancy

If you choose to eat higher risk meats like pepperoni occasionally during pregnancy, follow these guidelines for safety:

  • Avoid eating deli meats cold or straight from the package
  • Cook deli meats to 165°F until steaming hot immediately before eating
  • Avoid cross-contamination by using separate plates, utensils, etc. for raw and cooked meats
  • Don’t let microwaved or cooked meats sit out for more than 2 hours before reheating again
  • Avoid lukewarm, room temperature deli meats
  • Reheat leftover pizza, casseroles, sandwiches etc. containing deli meats until hot
  • Be extra diligent with food prep, hand washing and kitchen hygiene

Can eating cold pepperoni cause a miscarriage?

There is a small risk that eating cold, unheated pepperoni could potentially lead to miscarriage, but the actual direct link is unclear.

Listeria infection during pregnancy can definitely result in miscarriage, stillbirth, and preterm labor. However, most listeriosis cases are thought to originate from sources other than deli meats like produce, soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, and premade salads.

The overall likelihood of eating cold cuts and then contracting listeriosis that leads to miscarriage is quite low. But it’s impossible to know how much deli meat consumption directly contributes to pregnancy loss. Avoiding cold pepperoni and other high-risk deli meats is just recommended to limit any potential risks.

At what stage of pregnancy is cold pepperoni most dangerous?

Cold deli meats like pepperoni could be dangerous at any stage of pregnancy. However, the risks might be highest during late pregnancy when the immune system is most suppressed.

Late in the third trimester, the protective stomach acid that kills bacteria is reduced. The uterus is enlarged and compressing other organs, which can slow digestion. The combo provides more opportunity for Listeria to infect the mother and cross the placenta to the fetus.

However, early pregnancy is still quite vulnerable as well. Listeria infection in the first trimester could negatively impact fetal development and result in miscarriage or birth defects. So it’s smart to avoid cold pepperoni from the very start of pregnancy through delivery.

Should you avoid all deli meats or just cold ones?

Since the risk comes from the potential presence of Listeria bacteria, thoroughly cooking deli meats to piping hot temperatures is the key. Avoiding only cold deli meats but still eating lukewarm ones is not sufficient.

Pregnant women need to avoid eating deli meats like pepperoni, ham, turkey etc. cold or straight from the fridge. Make sure to reheat prepackaged and presliced deli meats until steaming immediately before eating as well.

As long as deli meats are cooked thoroughly to at least 165°F, they should be safe to eat during pregnancy. But don’t let cooked meats sit out for extended periods before reheating again.

Are nitrates or preservatives in pepperoni harmful during pregnancy?

There are no specific risks linked to nitrates or preservatives in pepperoni and pregnancy complications. The main concern with deli meats is potential Listeria infection.

However, pregnant women should limit intake of processed meats like pepperoni for other health reasons. Pepperoni contains high levels of sodium, nitrates, and saturated fat which should be minimized. Eating too many processed meats may increase risks for high blood pressure, swelling, and certain birth defects.

But as far as miscarriage, stillbirth or preterm birth linked to pepperoni itself – the preservatives are not the direct cause. Heating pepperoni to eliminate Listeria is the most critical safety factor for pregnant women.

Are hot peppers safe during pregnancy?

Yes, most hot peppers are considered safe to eat during pregnancy. Hot peppers refer to varieties like jalapeños, habaneros, cayenne, etc. – not bell peppers.

The capsaicin compounds that give hot peppers their spicy kick may actually have some health benefits. Capsaicin could help with nausea, heartburn, and even pain relief during labor.

However, extremely spicy foods may cause indigestion or stomach cramps in some pregnant women. So moderation is key. Always pair hot peppers with other non-spicy ingredients and foods.

Some tips for eating hot peppers safely during pregnancy include:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration
  • Start slowly if you’re not used to spicy foods
  • Limit intake of extremely hot peppers like habaneros
  • Opt for milder varieties like poblanos or chopped jalapeños
  • Avoid hot peppers if you already have heartburn issues

Should you avoid spicy foods during pregnancy?

Most spicy foods are safe in moderation during pregnancy. In addition to hot peppers, this includes seasonings like chili powder, cayenne, paprika, curry powder, ginger, horseradish etc.

Spicy foods contain compounds called capsaicinoids that give them a burning, pungent taste. Capsaicin is the most common capsaicinoid found in hot chili peppers.

Small amounts of spicy foods are unlikely to cause harm for most pregnant women. However, very spicy foods could potentially trigger issues like:

  • Heartburn or acid reflux
  • Intestinal discomfort or diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Dehydration

As long as spicy foods are tolerated well, there’s no specific reason to avoid them during pregnancy. Some pregnant women report cravings for spicy foods due to the mood-boosting endorphins released by capsaicin.

Should you avoid deli meats if not pregnant?

Deli meats don’t need to be avoided completely by the general public. The risks of Listeria infection mainly apply to higher risk groups like:

  • Pregnant women
  • Newborns
  • Elderly people
  • Those with weakened immune systems

However, anyone can still get sick from Listeria. People not in a higher risk group can follow general food safety practices like:

  • Using separate surfaces, plates, utensils for raw and cooked meats
  • Avoiding cross-contamination of ready-to-eat foods by raw meat juices
  • Cooking deli meats thoroughly until steaming hot before eating
  • Avoiding leftover deli meats that sit out for more than 2 hours
  • Proper hand washing after handling deli meats

Healthy adults don’t need to heat deli meats before eating if following basic food safety. But it’s still smart to take precautions and monitor for any symptoms of illness after eating cold deli meats.


Eating cold pepperoni and deli meats during pregnancy is not recommended due to the small risk of Listeria infection. While the chances of illness are low, the results could potentially be tragic including miscarriage, stillbirth, or preterm birth complications.

To minimize risks, pregnant women should avoid eating cold deli meats including pepperoni, ham, salami and hot dogs. These items should be heated thoroughly to 165°F until steaming right before eating. Leftovers should also be promptly refrigerated and reheated until hot before eating again.

Cooked deli meats, pepperoni pizza baked at high oven temperatures, and prepackaged pre-cooked frozen pepperoni tend to be lower risk. But it’s still smart for pregnant women to take precautions and limit higher risk items. Following food safety guidelines for handling, cooking, and storing deli meats can help prevent any illnesses.

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