Nearly a third of expectant parents are concerned about food safety during pregnancy, according to search data from the British Nutrition Foundation’s (BNF) new on-line resource for expectant parents,  30 percent of visitors to the website are looking for food safety information, while 24 percent are searching for advice on how to ensure healthy weight during and after pregnancy, followed by 12 percent seeking facts about alcohol intake1.

The progress of scientific research means that advice on some areas of food safety for pregnant women has changed in recent years and the BNF believes that its new resource will enable expectant parents to arm themselves with up to date information on diet, nutrition and physical activity. For example, in 2009 the government revised its guidelines on peanut consumption during pregnancy and breastfeeding – previously parents had been cautioned to avoid eating peanuts during these periods if there was a family history of allergy.  Now, the advice is that parents can choose whether or not to eat foods containing peanuts, irrespective of the family’s history of allergy, unless the mother herself is allergic or is advised to avoid peanuts by her doctor.  In 2008, new research findings linked caffeine intake above 200mg a day with the increased risk of low birth weight babies, and the Food Standards Agency subsequently revised its advice for mothers.  And, in 2016, the Department of Health revised its recommendations for alcohol consumption, down from no more than 1-2 units of alcohol, once or twice a week during pregnancy, to no alcohol at all for pregnant women.  

Bridget Benelam, Senior Nutrition Scientist at the BNF said: “Expectant parents have a right to reliable, balanced information.  Nutrition is a complex science and people can’t be expected to keep up to date with the latest advice and make the right choices about food safety, weight control, nutrition and exercise before, during or after pregnancy, without access to facts and expert advice.  Unlike printed materials which quickly become out of date, online resources are particularly valuable for parents as they can be easily updated to reflect new scientific evidence and guidelines.”

Based on the latest scientific evidence, the BNF’s advice on foods to avoid when pregnant is as follows:

Meat and fish

  • Pâté (all types) can, on rare occasions contain listeria bacteria, which are harmful to your baby
  • Raw or undercooked meat, including cured meat for example parma ham (prosciutto) and salami. These can carry bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. Raw meat should be cooked thoroughly with no pink meat or blood left. You should also avoid contact of raw meat with foods that are eaten raw, such as vegetables
  • Liver may contain very high levels of vitamin A, which can harm your baby
  • Avoid certain types of fish - shark, marlin and swordfish as they may contain mercury and other pollutants that can harm your baby’s developing nervous system
  • Raw shellfish should not be eaten as it carries a risk of food poisoning
  •  Oily fish is great for the development of your baby’s nervous system and eyes, but you should not eat more than two portions (1 portion = 140g, cooked weight) a week because they may contain pollutants, which can harm your baby. The same goes for tuna, so don’t eat more than 4 cans or 2 medium sized steaks per week.

Cheese and dairy

  • Cheeses with a soft rind like Brie and Camembert, and blue veined cheeses like stilton. You should also avoid unpasteurised soft cheeses such as some goats’ cheeses. These types of cheese can contain listeria bacteria, although this is rare
  • Unpasteurised milk and milk products may also contain bacteria that are harmful to you and your baby.


  • Raw or partially cooked eggs, as well as products containing raw eggs such as homemade mayonnaise and salad dressings. Raw eggs may contain salmonella which can cause food poisoning. Most shop-bought mayonnaises and dressings contain pasteurised eggs so are safe to eat, but check if you are eating out at a restaurant as they may make their own. Fully cooked eggs, so that both the whites and yolk are solid, can be eaten when pregnant.

If you are trying to conceive, or if you would like advice on food, nutrition, exercise and lifestyle during pregnancy, after birth, while breastfeeding or weaning, or if you are interested in finding out more about healthy eating for toddlers, please visit


1Information collected in an online poll at from May 27th to November 7th 2011 with a total of 1,416 respondants.
2Further information about changes to dietary advice for pregnant women can be found in the editorial to a new Virtual Issue of the journal Nutrition Bulletin, available at:

For further information, interviews and images contact:
Bridget Benelam
Tel: 020 7404 6504 / 07966 032293. Email:  

Notes for Editors:

1.    BNF offers an expert nutrition information service for journalists and media. Tel: 02074046504. Email:

2.    BNF was established over 40 years ago and exists to deliver authoritative, evidence-based information on food and nutrition in the context of health and lifestyle. The Foundation’s work is conducted and communicated through a unique blend of nutrition science, education and media activities. BNF’s strong governance is broad-based but weighted towards the academic community.  BNF is a registered charity that attracts funding from a variety of sources, including contracts with the European Commission, national government departments and agencies; food producers and manufacturers, retailers and food service companies; grant providing bodies, trusts and other charities. Further details about our work, governance and funding can be found on our website ( and in our Annual Reports.


Last reviewed November 2011. Revised January 2016. Next review due November 2014