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Dining in Italy while pregnant


IrishAdventurer
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Hello, forgive me for starting a new thread on this, but I couldn't find any information with the search function. As I mentioned in some of the other threads here, I am going on vacation to Italy shortly. However, Mrs. IrishAdventurer is pregnant and obviously can't eat lots of the things she'd normally like, such as gorgonzola and cured ham. While she can take precautions and avoid foods like that, how careful do we need to be when eating out? Obviously we can tell the staff that she is pregnant, but different countries have wildly different ideas of what is 'safe' when pregnant. Ireland and the UK are a bit more strict than mainland European countries in my experience (at least in terms of the medical advice), and I guess I'm really wondering what precautions the Italians take when pregnant, and whether restaurant staff will follow that advice. She'll avoid ravioli with ricotta I'd imagine, but would probably like to eat seafood risotto: would that be considered 'safe', in general or by the Italians?

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I can't grasp what kind of problem Ricotta cheese would pose. Properly made ricotta cheese is made from whey from milk that has been heated to make Mozzarella, that whey is re-cooked to make the Ricotta, then you are taking it in the form of a Ravioli and boiling it. Not eating raw seafood is probabley a good idea, I would assume its all cooked within a seafood risotto.

Working in shop with a nice cheese dept a few years ago I first started hearing about all these new restrictions, they would drive me nuts...unless you smuggled it in yourself you aren't going to find a whole lot of unpasturized soft cheeses in New Jersey

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I traveled widely while pregnant, including to Italy. Actually, medical advice is generally pretty uniform these days across Europe, except for the doctor in Finland who encouraged me to climb Kilimanjaro while two months pregnant.

The major things to limit would be alcohol, of course, and raw milk cheeses and charcuterie because of the risk of listeria. My doctor banned liver and foie gras because of the risk of accumulating excessive vitamin A. In Italy, fresh sardines and small salt water fish and shellfish are excellent, and there is less potential for excessive mercury levels. Just err on the side of caution with potential food poisoning when it comes to undercooked meats and raw vegetables.

This is the proper moment to pig out on pasta and pizza.

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She had been avoiding all the 'problem' foods, and will continue to do so, I was just wondering if there were any 'stealthy' risks that I mightn't be aware of (like raw eggs in Caesar Salad dressing, which some people mightn't know about, for example). That's a good point about the smaller fish andd mercury though, thank you. She won't need telling twice to pig out on pizza and pasta!

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Not to discourage reasonable caution during pregnancy, but I really can't imagine too much risk that would be involved in eating in Italy. Ricotta in ravioli would have been cooked unless you plan to eat raw ravioli (which I doubt); you can easily avoid Parmesan cheese as an after-cooking addition (as in sprinkling on top of pasta) and any that is contained in a cooked dish would have been heated to a safe temperature anyway; and any fish or shellfish in risotto will be cooked, not raw. I suspect that you're every bit as safe in Italy as in the UK or anywhere else. The salads made with raw vegetables can contain pathogens - but this is no more likely in Italy than in the US. There is so much good food to choose from in Italy I don't think there will be any shortage of options, pregnancy or not.

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Spaghetti carbonara is made with raw eggs. In trying to perfect our recipe for this dish at home, I did an obsessive amount of research on whether the heat of cooking the dish is enough to destroy any salmonella. The results I found were that no, the heat didn't go high enough - in the recipes I found, and the one that I use, you actually remove the dish from the heat at the point when the eggs are added. Our solution at home is to use homeginized eggs; I wouldn't think restaurants would do that. (We serve this dish to our kids, so our concern is more for them than us adults.) So you might want to give spaghetti carbonara a miss.

When traveling in France while pregnant, where products like lait cru cheese are more common than I think they are in Italy, I found the French much more in tune with products to be avoided than I was - waiters would tell me which cheese from a cheese cart I should avoid, for example.

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I live in Italy and spent my entire pregnancy here.

The guidelines aren't much different than anywhere else. However, they are slightly less restrictive.... I am not Italian so I followed a lot of American and UK advice as well.

My docs recommendations were as follows (keeping in mind some other docs recommended different thing):

Cheese. Parmigiano, ok. Mozzarella and ricotta ok cooked or pre-packaged- but only freshly opened. Also, artisanal not ok. Gorgonzola and the like a definite no-no. Meat, no salamis or prosciutto Crudo. High Quality Prosciutto cotto ok in small doses. Meat cooked well done. Big one here! No raw eggs or par cooked eggs. Cooked (small) fish ok, big fish less. Shellfish like muscles-no. (Something about hepatitis.) Raw vegetables need to be soaked in baking soda or some other type of vegetable wash before consumption. However, cooked vegetables no. Alcohol- one glass of wine (or beer only) a few times a week with food or on a full stomach.

The veggie wash is a big deal here. I once informed a kitchen that I was pregnant and they didn't even garnish my plate with parsley because they hadn't pre-soaked it in baking soda!!

Restaurants are reallllly respectful here. And won't want to do anything to hurt you or go against your wishes. So just inform them of whatever you want or need. On the whole, pregnant women are treated like Royalty in Italy. She'll have a GREAT time. Well, I guess it also depends on where you are going!

Buon Viaggio!

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Thanks a lot Ambra, those details about the shellfish and baking soda are very useful, and we'll make sure that we tell the staff she's pregnant. We're staying near Ravenna for a week (with a few trips to Bologna I can't wait for), and another week near Caorle east of Venice.

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  • 1 month later...

I have to admit I laughed a bit reading through this thread...my mother lived in Italy while she was pregnant with me some 30-odd years ago. And she still lovingly tells stories of how she (and by default I) basically lived on muscles right off the beaches of Ancona, wild turkies, and big slabs of cheese as that was about all she and my father could afford. And of course at least glass of wine (though not to excess) every evening meal. I daresay I came out alright and with no health problems except she swears I inherited extreme Italian tastebuds...

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