pan of beef jerky

Can You Eat Beef Jerky While Pregnant?

Your body does some pretty amazing (and sometimes weird) things during pregnancy.

And one of those things is food cravings. 

One of the more common pregnancy cravings is for salty foods. Pickles anyone?

Beef jerky is a salty food that can often be the target of one of these cravings.

But as you probably know, there are some oddly specific “rules” around eating meat in pregnancy.

And you just want to know how keep you and your baby heathy. We completely get that.

So stick around and we will walk you through current recommendations (and the why behind these recommendations!) so that you can make informed choices about your health in pregnancy.

Can Pregnant Women Eat Beef Jerky?

Generally speaking, beef jerky is not safe for pregnancy because it has not been cooked to a temperature high enough to kill the bacteria and pathogens. 

Is Beef Jerky Cooked?

Kind of.

When you eat beef jerky, you are not eating raw meat. 

However, it has gone through a cooking process that is different than the way meat is normally cooked. 

Let’s take steak as an example. When you make steak, you season it, place it on the stove, oven, or grill, and let it cook until it’s done. 

With beef jerky, the goal is to remove moisture from the meat. Doing this requires a low heat over an extended period of time. 

However, meats that are cooked to 160 degrees Farenheit prior to dehydrating would be safe to eat. If you are making jerky from poultry (think turkey jerky), the poultry would need to be heated to 165 degrees to be safe.

The issue is that many dehydrators may not get hot enough for the meat to reach an internal temperature of 160-165 degrees

And when you buy beef jerky, you don’t know how hot it was cooked before it was dried.

Why Does Beef Jerky Need To Be Cooked?

Cooking meat before dehydrating helps kill harmful bacteria prior to dehydrating. 

Once meats are dehydrated, their bacteria become more resistant to heat. This means that heat is less likely to actually kill of the bacteria.

In overview, meats need to be fully cooked. 

Can You Eat Cured Meat in Pregnancy?

Cured meats are safe to eat in pregnancy as long as they are fully cooked.

Some of the most popular cured meats in the United States are pepperoni, salami, prosciutto, and bacon.

Can You Have Pepperoni Pizza When Pregnant?

No worries there.

Pepperoni pizza is generally safe in pregnancy. When pizzas are cooked, the oven is hot enough that it will usually kill the harmful bacteria that may be present in the pepperoni. 

Can Pregnant Women Eat Salami?

Pregnant women have an increased risk for foodborne illness from uncooked salami.

But can you eat cooked salami when pregnant? 

Yes, it is generally safe for pregnant women to eat salami as long as it it cooked to steaming hot. 

Can Pregnant Women Eat Smoked Meat?

Pregnant women can eat smoked meat as long as it has been fully cooked and heating to steaming hot right before eating. 

Can You Eat Slim Jims in Pregnancy?

Slim Jim does not specify on the packaging or website how they cook and prepare their meat before drying.

Therefore, it’s safest to avoid Slim Jims in pregnancy. 

Can Pregnant Women Eat Jerky Of Other Kinds?

Unfortunately, all of the food safety considerations apply to all forms of jerky, not just beef jerky. Unless you know that it has been fully cooked (and temperature checked with a meat thermometer), it is recommended to avoid:

  • Beef jerky
  • Turkey jerky
  • Chicken jerky
  • Venison jerky
  • Buffalo jerky
  • Salmon jerky

But what specific risks are associated with undercooked meats in pregnancy?

Listeria and Pregnancy 

Listeria is a type of bacteria often found in meats, poultry, unpasteurized dairy, and ready-to-eat foods. It can also be found in fruits and vegetables if they have come in contact with soil contaminated with listeria.

It is different from many bacteria because:

  1. Animals that carry it often don’t look sick
  2. It can actually grow at refrigerator temperatures (cool temperatures usually slow the growth of other types of bacteria)

When listeria (the bacteria) is consumed, it can cause listeriosis (the illness).

During pregnancy, your immune system is weaker than normal. 

According to the USDA, pregnant women are at 10 times higher risk of developing listeriosis. It is estimated pregnant women make up about 17% of all listeriosis cases. 

Listeriosis increases the health risks to your baby. 

We want you to understand the rationale for the food recommendations, but also don’t want to scare you. If you want to learn more about symptoms and risks associated with listeria, check out this guide from the USDA. Otherwise, keep reading!

Toxoplasma and Pregnancy

Toxoplasma is a parasite that can also be found in undercooked meats and contaminated produce. 

When eaten, toxoplasma (the parasite) can lead to toxoplasmosis (the illness). 

If you’ve ever heard that pregnant women shouldn’t clean out the litter box, this is also in reference to toxoplasmosis. 

Signs and symptoms of toxoplasmosis include:

  • Stiff neck
  • Swollen glands
  • Headaches 
  • Fever
  • Muscle pains

Not all women who have toxoplasmosis show obvious signs of illness. Like with listeria, we want you to be aware of the risk but also want to avoid scaring you. If you want to learn more about risks associated with toxoplasmosis, check out this guide from the USDA.

Also, definitely avoid expired beef jerky while pregnant. 

I Didn’t Know! What If I’ve Been Eating Beef Jerky While Pregnant?

If you’ve already had some beef jerky or uncooked deli meat, don’t panic. The chances of you getting sick are still very low. Just let your doctor or midwife know if you start to show any signs of illness.

Looking ahead, just consider holding off on eating any more of it until after baby arrives.

Final Thoughts: Can You Eat Beef Jerky While Pregnant?

Beef jerky is often not fully cooked before dehydrating and therefore usually not safe to eat when pregnant. 

While the odds of you or your baby accidentally becoming ill from eating these foods, it does rarely cause severe health complications. 

This information is here to empower you to make the food choices that are best for you and your family. 

If you are interested in learning more about prenatal nutrition, check out our articles on miso soup in pregnancy, breakfast in pregnancy, and prenatal superfoods

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