Which foods should I avoid when I’m pregnant?
When you’re pregnant, eating a variety of healthy foods is good for you and your baby. However, there are some foods you should not eat when you're pregnant because they might make you ill or harm your baby. There are also some foods that are safe to eat, but you need to be careful not to have too much of them.
The main foods to avoid include:
- soft cheeses
- undercooked or raw meat, fish and seafood
- pre-prepared or unwashed fruits and vegetables
- soft-serve ice cream
- undercooked or raw eggs
- unpasteurised milk
Foods to limit include:
What are the risks of eating these foods?
Each of these foods carry different risks during pregnancy. Some foods could be contaminated with germs — these can cause infections and may be harmful for you or your baby. Other foods contain substances that can harm your baby.
Listeriosis, caused by the bacteria listeria, is a rare infection that is usually not a problem for healthy people. However, if you’re pregnant it can make you unwell. If your baby becomes infected, it can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or premature labour.
Foods that could be contaminated with listeria include:
- leftovers and pre-prepared foods
- unwashed or pre-cut fruits and vegetables
- soft cheeses, unpasteurised milk products and soft-serve ice cream
- smoked or raw seafood
- smoked meats, pâté and cold chicken
- rockmelon and raw sprouts
- unpasteurised juice
Toxoplasmosis, caused by the parasite toxoplasma, is an infection that can affect your baby if you get it for the first time when you’re pregnant. This is rare in Australia, but it’s important to be cautious because it can cause your baby to have brain damage or blindness.
Foods that could be contaminated with toxoplasma include:
- undercooked meat
- unwashed fruits and vegetables
The bacteria salmonella can make you unwell with food poisoning. If you get it when you’re pregnant it can cause miscarriage, but this is rare.
Foods that could be contaminated with salmonella include:
- raw or undercooked eggs and eggs that were cracked during storage
- sesame seeds, hummus and tahini
- undercooked meat and chicken
Some types of fish have higher levels of mercury than others. This is usually higher in the larger predatory fish. The highest levels are found in shark, marlin, broadbill, swordfish, orange roughy and catfish.
Too much vitamin A (also called retinol) can harm your baby. Liver contains a lot of vitamin A and should be limited.
High levels of caffeine can increase your risk of miscarriage, premature birth and having a baby with a low birth weight. Caffeine is naturally found in lots of foods, such as coffee, tea and chocolate. It is also added to some soft drinks and energy drinks.
How can I make sure the food I eat is safe?
As a general rule, the best foods to eat are freshly and thoroughly cooked or freshly prepared. Take care to always store and prepare food safely. Don’t eat anything that has passed its use-by date.
Drink only pasteurised or ultra-heat treated (UHT or long-life) milk. Make sure that you only eat dairy products made from pasteurised milk.
Don't eat mould-ripened soft cheese, such as brie, camembert and chevre (a type of goat's cheese) and others with a similar rind. You should also avoid ricotta, feta, mozzarella, bocconcini and blue-veined cheeses. These may contain listeria, which can get in during the manufacturing process. It’s okay to eat them if they are cooked to at least 75°C and eaten straight away.
It’s fine to eat hard cheeses such as cheddar, parmesan and edam. Hard cheeses are more acidic than soft cheeses, so bacteria are less likely to grow in them.
Many other types of soft cheese are okay to eat, but make sure they're packaged by the manufacturer. They include cottage cheese, cream cheese and processed cheeses such as cheese spreads.
Don't eat soft-serve ice cream. It is stored at a temperature that allows listeria to grow. It’s okay to eat packaged frozen ice cream.
Make sure eggs are thoroughly cooked until the whites and yolks are solid. This prevents the risk of salmonella food poisoning.
Don’t eat foods that contain raw or undercooked eggs, such as homemade mayonnaise, aioli, mousses, or cake batters. It’s okay to eat commercially-made, non-refrigerated products containing egg, but make sure to store them correctly.
Don’t use dirty eggs, or eggs that were cracked and stored before use.
Don't eat rare meat. Undercooked meat may contain toxoplasma or salmonella. Cook all meat and poultry thoroughly so it is steaming hot and there is no trace of pink. Take care with pork, sausages and minced meat, including burgers.
Wash all surfaces and utensils thoroughly after preparing raw meat. Use a separate chopping board and knife. It's also important to remember to wash your hands after touching or handling raw meat.
Avoid cold cured meats, such as salami, ham, chorizo and pepperoni. It’s okay to eat them if they are cooked to at least 75°C and eaten straight away.
Don’t eat cold meats from delicatessen counters and sandwich bars, packaged sliced ready-to-eat meats or cold cooked ready-to-eat chicken. Avoid all types of pâté. These may contain listeria. Hot take-away chicken is fine if you eat it straight away.
Limit your intake of liver or liver products, such as liver pâté or liver sausage — don’t eat more than 50 grams per week, as they contain a lot of vitamin A.
Fish and seafood
Fish contains protein and essential omega-3 fatty acids, so it is recommended in pregnancy. However, it’s important to limit your intake of fish with higher levels of mercury.
You can do this by following these guidelines (keep in mind that a serving is 150 grams):
- Shark (also called flake), broadbill, marlin and swordfish should be eaten no more than once every 2 weeks. Don’t eat any other fish during that 2 week period.
- Orange roughy (also called deep sea perch) and catfish should be eaten no more than once a week. Don’t eat any other fish during that week.
- Any other fish or seafood should be eaten no more than 2 to 3 times a week.
Freshly cooked fish and seafood are safe to eat within these guidelines. Make sure to cook them to at least 63°C and eat them straight away.
Don’t eat raw or chilled fish or seafood. This includes raw oysters, sashimi and sushi, smoked ready-to-eat seafood and cooked ready-to-eat chilled prawns. These have a higher risk of listeria contamination.
The safest way to enjoy sushi is to make your own. Choose fully cooked or vegetarian varieties. Avoid buying sushi.
Fruit and vegetables
Avoid pre-prepared or pre-packaged fruit or vegetable salads, including those from buffets and salad bars. They are at risk of listeria contamination.
Don’t eat rockmelon or any type of sprouts, as they may contain listeria or salmonella.
Wash fruit, vegetables and herbs to remove all traces of soil and dirt. Toxoplasma can sometimes be found in soil.
Sesame seeds may contain salmonella, so it’s best to avoid all sesame products, such as hummus, tahini and halva.
If there is any concern about the safety of the water, use bottled water. This includes for brushing your teeth and making ice.
If bottled water is not available, you can boil water for 5 minutes or use chlorine-based tables to treat the water. Iodine-based water treatment systems are not recommended for pregnant woman as the iodine can affect your baby’s development.
Can I drink alcohol during pregnancy?
There is no known safe level of alcohol that you can have during your pregnancy. Whether you are planning a pregnancy, already pregnant or breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option as alcohol can harm your unborn baby.
Can I have caffeine during pregnancy?
You don’t need to cut out caffeine completely, but don’t have more than 200mg a day. The approximate amounts of caffeine found in food and drinks are:
- 1 teaspoon of instant coffee: 80mg
- 1 shot of espresso coffee: 145mg
- 1 cup of tea: 50mg
- 375ml can of cola: 36.4mg
- 250ml can of energy drink: 80mg
- 100g bar of milk chocolate: 20mg
To cut down on caffeine, try decaffeinated tea and coffee, fruit juice or mineral water instead of regular tea, coffee and cola.
Energy drinks are not recommended during pregnancy as they may contain high levels of caffeine or guarana (which also contains caffeine).
Can I eat leftovers during pregnancy?
Be cautious with leftover food, as it can become contaminated with listeria. If you want to eat leftovers, put them straight in the fridge in a covered container. Don’t keep them for more than a day and reheat them to at least 60°C.
Can I eat foods that my baby might be allergic to?
It’s fine to eat peanuts or food containing peanuts (such as peanut butter) during pregnancy, unless you are allergic to them. It’s also fine to eat other foods considered to be highly allergenic. Cutting these foods out of your diet during pregnancy is not recommended, as this has not been shown to prevent allergies in your baby.
Resources and support
Check out our handy guide to food and drink during pregnancy (infographic) that you can print off to stick on your fridge or keep in your bag.
Look at this quick reference table by the NSW Government Food Authority, to work out what’s safe to eat and what needs special precautions.
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: November 2022