April 21, 2024

Does Microwaving Deli Meats and Cold Cuts Make Them Safe?

Does microwaving deli meats and cold cuts, which are on the no-no list for pregnant women, makes them safe to eat? Those types of foods can carry Listeria monocytogenes bacteria that can have a devastating affect.

Does Microwaving Deli Meats and Cold Cuts Make Them Safe?

The short answer is it depends.

Pregnant women are told to avoid deli meats, pates, soft cheeses, cold cuts, and hot dogs because they can be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. That pathogen can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labor, and infection in the newborn. In fact, pregnant women are 20 times more likely to suffer these complications from listeriosis than the general population.

Deli cut meats are especially problematic because a CDC study found that most deli managers don’t know that the slicing machines need to be thoroughly cleaned. If one chunk of meat is contaminated, the slicer can easily transfer the pathogen to more foods. And Listeria monocytogenes bacteria thrive in moist and cool environments like delis. It can establish itself in floor drains and in refrigerators. And, in fact, that pathogen can be resistant to standard cleaning procedures.

While Listeria monocytogenes can make healthy people sick, pregnant women and their fetuses are most at risk for serious complications from this infection. So while heating those at-risk products is a good idea in general, using the microwave oven is not.

Perishable foods such as luncheon meats, ground meat, poultry, and all leftovers are only safe to eat for vulnerable populations if they are heated to 165°F, and tested with a food thermometer. Microwave ovens are notorious for heating food unevenly. Most have “cold spots,” where the food doesn’t get very hot. That’s why microwave recipes have you stir and rotate the food while you are cooking it.

Pregnant women are so at risk for serious complications from a listeriosis infection for two reasons. First, a pregnant woman’s immune system is compromised because of the fetus. And second, the latest research shows that the pathogen uses the compromised immune system to hide in the placenta. It grows there, which may explain the lag time between infection and illness, and then can easily infect the fetus, causing miscarriage and stillbirth.

It’s really best to just avoid those risky foods while you are pregnant to protect yourself and your baby.


  1. Shirley Scheffers says

    Where can the comments be viewed in “Speak your mind” ?? Thanks.

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