Eating Cheese During Pregnancy

Whilst Chorlton Cheesemongers cannot give medical advice, What we can do is tell people what we know about cheese based on fact and research carried out by specialists.

Cheese can be eaten during pregnancy, or if immunocompromised, but common advice is to avoid soft, semi-soft and blue cheeses, which could contain Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium causing Listeriosis. Listeriosis can be a severe illness, and changes to the immune system can significantly increase the risk of contracting it.

Listeria does not occur naturally in raw milk or cheese itself; instead, its presence indicates contamination of either the raw material (milk) or environment (cheesemaking equipment or ripening areas). We and our partner cheesemakers take all due care to ensure our cheeses meet uncompromising safety standards so as to minimise this risk, and though the potential for any problems with our cheese is minute, we would advise pregnant or immunocompromised customers as follows:

  1. The best way to eat cheese safely is to avoid cheeses in which Listeria can grow. Whether or not the cheese is pasteurised or raw is not a relevant factor because contamination may occur after the point of pasteurisation, for example, through environmental contamination
  2. Listeria grows in high-moisture, low acidity environments and for this reason those who are pregnant/immunocompromised should avoid soft (including soft goat, Brie-style, washed-rind) semi-soft (e.g. ‘alpine’ cheeses, which are fairly high-moisture and young) and mould-ripened (e.g. blue) cheeses.
  3. 'Regional' cheeses (Red Leicester, Double Gloucester, Cheshire, Lancashire etc,) generally don’t have enough age to make them good choices for pregnancy, so steer clear of this category.
  4. Rinds can pose a higher risk because a) Listeria tends to grow better in a rind environment b) it is the point at which the cheese is exposed to any potential environmental contamination. We advise pregnant/immunocompromised not to eat the cheese rind, even on hard cheeses.
  5. Hard, aged cheeses of 12 months or more which conversely are low-moisture, high acidity are environments hostile to Listeria survival and safe to eat. Mature Cheddars and Parmesan are good choices, but many other cheeses come into this category.

What does the NHS say?

The NHS guidance on pregnancy can be confusing. Customers may, for example, have read that Stilton is safe to eat (oddly, the NHS considers it a ‘hard cheese’ and also safe because it is pasteurised), or may be confused about which soft cheeses are safe (some are recommended, others not). We would recommend avoiding both soft & blue cheese for the same reasons stated above.

However, the NHS and Chorlton Cheesemongers are in agreement that both pasteurised or raw milk aged hard cheeses are safe for everyone.

The following are our in shop recommendations for those wishing to eat cheese whilst pregnant. They all conform to NHS guidelines:

  • Montgomery’s Cheddar
  • Isle of Mull Cheddar
  • Lincolnshire Poacher
  • Hafod
  • Keen’s Cheddar
  • Westcombe Cheddar
  • Sparkenhoe Mature
  • Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Coolea
  • Cornish Kern
  • Corra Linn (Sheep)
  • Bonnington Linn (Goat)

Any attempt to categorise cheese is difficult as it is inherently variable. Some batches of our cheeses might fall into the category of ‘hard, aged,’ while others might be younger, softer, and more similar to regional cheeses. For this reason, we’ve given a very rigid, clear-cut and conservative list above, but our mongers are always happy to advise you in person, suggesting others depending on the batch. 

As a last note: the decisions of each customer will be different, and we will make recommendations within the bounds of what you are happy with.