Can I Eat Panela Cheese While Pregnant?
Panela cheese falls under the category of fresh cheeses and therefore should only be eaten if it has been made with pasteurized milk. According to the CDC, to lower the risk of contracting Listeriosis, pregnant women should avoid eating fresh or soft cheeses, such as Panela. The high moisture and lower salt content in soft cheeses like Panela create a potential breeding ground for Listeria and other bacteria.
What is Listeriosis?
Listeriosis is a serious foodborne illness caused by eating foods that are contaminated with the Listeria monocytogenes (“Listeria”) bacterium. According to reports from the FDA, Listeria is one of the main causes of death from food poisoning in the United States.
This germ is commonly found in soil, water, decaying vegetation, and the intestinal tract of animals. It can also be found in soft cheeses or other products made from unpasteurized milk and processed foods that become contaminated such as deli meats.
Who is at risk of contracting a Listeria infection?
Nearly all of the people who become gravely ill or die from Listeria infections are newborn babies, people with weakened immune systems and the elderly.
Pregnant women are about 10 times more likely than the general public to get Listeria infection.
If you are pregnant and Hispanic, your risk is even greater. The FDA reports that pregnant Hispanic women are about 24 times more likely than the general population to get Listeria infection. Listeria infection in pregnant women can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, or death of the newborn.
Many outbreaks of Listeria have been linked to soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk. Mexican soft cheeses include queso fresco, queso blanco, queso cotija, queso panela and queso ranchero.
What kind of cheese is safe for pregnant women?
The general rule of thought is that hard or aged cheeses are safer for pregnant women to consume as the reduced moisture and higher salt content make for a less hospitable breeding ground for germs and bacteria to form and multiply. In short, the dryer the cheese, the safer it is considered.
Pregnant women should not eat soft cheeses, such as queso panela, while pregnant, unless they are made with pasteurized milk, to lower the risk of getting an infection from Listeria or other foodborne germs.
Where can I find pasteurized Panela Cheese?
It is strongly recommended that if you are going to consume fresh cheeses like Panela cheese while pregnant, the cheese should be purchased commercially packaged, from a reputable producer and distributed by major grocery chains. Fortunately, panela cheese is relatively easy to find in most supermarkets.
If you are pregnant, do not eat any fresh cheeses that are “homemade”, “artisanal” or come from small family farms as the milk used in the process may not be pasteurized.
In the United States, imported cheese is also more likely to be unpasteurized so look at the labels carefully.
Federal regulations in the US require cheesemakers to clearly label the ingredients in their cheese. Pregnant women should only eat cheese that is labeled “made from pasteurized milk.” However, consumers should be aware that cheeses have caused Listeria infection because they became contaminated AFTER the pasteurization process!
There is always going to be a certain level of risk involved and therefore it is not recommended to eat Panela cheese while pregnant unless you are 100% certain that it has been pasteurized.