Why Can’t You Eat Beef Jerky While Pregnant?

Pregnancy comes with a lot of dos and don’ts around food. Beef jerky is one snack that many pregnant women wonder if they need to give up. With its convenient protein and delicious flavors, it can seem like the perfect choice to curb cravings. But is enjoying some jerky actually risky for you and your baby?

There are some important considerations around consuming beef jerky during pregnancy. Here’s what expectant mothers need to know about why it may be best to avoid this tasty treat.

Risk of Foodborne Illness

One of the main risks of eating beef jerky while pregnant is potential foodborne illness. Jerky could contain harmful bacteria like Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and other pathogens if not properly handled.

Foodborne illnesses are especially dangerous during pregnancy because the immune system is suppressed. This makes both mom and baby more vulnerable to infection and serious complications.

According to the CDC, around 1 in 6 Americans get sick from contaminated foods each year. Pregnant women are 10 times more likely to get listeriosis from food poisoning, which can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, and other severe outcomes.

How Jerky Becomes Contaminated

Beef jerky could become contaminated during processing or when being made at home if:

  • Raw meat is not fully cooked to 160°F internally to kill germs before drying
  • It comes into contact with bacteria from unclean surfaces, utensils, hands, etc.
  • It is exposed to drips, juices, or particles from raw meat
  • Spoiled ingredients are used
  • Proper food safety practices are not followed

To kill dangerous bacteria like E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella, beef must reach an internal temperature of 160°F. Jerky is often dried at slightly lower temperatures which may allow bacteria to survive.

Higher Risk with Homemade Jerky

Commercially made beef jerky is considered safer than homemade varieties in terms of foodborne illness risk. Brand-name jerkies are:

  • Subject to food safety regulations and quality control
  • Produced in inspected facilities under sanitary conditions
  • Packaged to prevent recontamination after heat processing

Meanwhile, jerky made at home may not undergo thorough cooking to eliminate infectious germs before dehydrating. Without following proper protocols, homemade jerky could easily cause food poisoning.

The CDC and FDA advise pregnant women to only consume commercially prepared jerky to minimize foodborne illness risks. Avoid homemade jerkies from unverified sources.

Sodium Content Can Be High

In addition to foodborne illness concerns, many beef jerkies are quite high in sodium. A 1 ounce serving often contains around 500-800 mg of sodium, which is a substantial portion of the recommended daily intake.

The increased sodium intake from frequent jerky snacking could potentially contribute to high blood pressure issues during pregnancy.

High blood pressure conditions like preeclampsia are associated with complications such as low birth weight, premature delivery, placental abruption, and even stillbirth. Limiting sodium is typically advised to help support healthy blood pressure levels in pregnancy.

Nitrates/Nitrites May Be Present

Some types of beef jerky also contain chemical preservatives like nitrates and nitrites to inhibit microbial growth and preserve the color and flavor.

However, studies suggest that frequent nitrate/nitrite exposure from processed meats could be linked to adverse effects in pregnant women. These include:

  • Miscarriage
  • Neural tube defects
  • Preterm birth
  • Impaired fetal growth

For optimal safety, it’s best to choose nitrate-free jerkies while pregnant. Be sure to check labels closely for these and other potentially questionable ingredients.

Tips for Safely Satisfying Jerky Cravings While Pregnant

If you’re really craving that jerky flavor, there may be some safer ways to indulge while minimizing risks:

  • Stick to trusted brands – Opt for major national brands that clearly state “fully cooked” or “ready to eat” on packaging. Avoid generic, gas station, and homemade jerkies.

  • Check for nitrates – Select nitrate-free or naturally cured jerky when possible. Some brands offer preservative-free options.

  • Enjoy in moderation – Limit jerky to an occasional treat, not an everyday snack, to keep sodium in check. Stick to 1-2 oz portions max per day.

  • Pair with healthy foods – Balance out the sodium with yogurt, fruits, vegetables, or other wholesome options for a more balanced snack.

  • Properly store leftovers – Refrigerate any unfinished jerky in a sealed container right away and consume within 3-5 days. Discard if moldy.

  • Reheat before eating – Leftover jerky can be quickly microwaved or pan seared to further reduce pathogen risk.

  • Try turkey or salmon jerky – For lower sodium options, seek out alternative jerkies made from turkey, salmon, or other lean meats.

Healthy Pregnancy Snack Alternatives

If you decide to avoid beef jerky entirely when expecting, lots of other protein-packed snacks can help fill the gap! Here are some tasty alternatives to consider:

  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Mixed nuts and seeds
  • Nut butters with apple slices or celery
  • Greek yogurt with berries
  • Cottage cheese and fruit
  • Hummus and veggie sticks
  • Cheese slices or string cheese
  • Tuna salad lettuce wraps
  • Bean dips with low-sodium crackers
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Protein bars without questionable ingredients
  • Fresh fruits like apple slices with nut butter

The Bottom Line

Can you eat beef jerky while pregnant? While not completely off limits, there are valid concerns around foodborne illness, sodium, nitrates, and other risks associated with beef jerky consumption during pregnancy. Commercially prepared jerkies may pose fewer hazards when limited to occasional snacking. But for optimal safety, pregnant women may want to avoid jerky and opt for more wholesome protein-rich alternatives instead.

Talk to your doctor about any jerky cravings to help determine what’s right for your specific pregnancy. With so many other easy, nutritious snacks to choose from, cutting out jerky for nine months won’t feel like such a sacrifice after all. Your growing baby’s health is well worth it!

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Is beef jerky bad for fertility?

Processed meats include hot dogs, salami, beef jerky, bacon, etc. I get it; they’re delicious. Yes, bacon can make anything taste better. In the case of sperm, several studies connect eating processed red meat with decreased sperm counts and altered sperm motility.

Why is game meat bad during pregnancy?

Meat and poultry This can be harmful to an unborn baby. Game meats may contain lead shot. You can eat: meats such as chicken, pork and beef, as long as they’re well-cooked with no trace of pink or blood; be especially careful with poultry, pork, sausages and burgers.

Is dried beef good for pregnancy?

Since jerky is dried and not cooked, you should refrain from eating it while your immune system is in a more compromised state during pregnancy. Doing so will help you avoid the risk of developing a bacterial infection that could be harmful to you or your baby. Instead, choose other salty, savory snacks.

Why can’t you eat cured meat when pregnant?

Be cautious with cold cured meats in pregnancy Many cold meats, such as salami, Parma ham, chorizo and pepperoni, are not cooked, they are just cured and fermented. This means that there’s a risk they contain toxoplasmosis-causing parasites.

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