Posted: 31/08/2021

Retailers slam “confused” update to pregnancy cheese safety guidance

pregnancy cheese

New NHS guidance on cheeses that are safe to eat during pregnancy has been criticised for being “confused” and “fundamentally inaccurate” by cheesemongers and makers.

The guidance, introduced in England last year, is radically different to previous advice, which used to state that all hard cheeses, whether with raw or pasteurised, were safe to eat. 

The NHS now advises that all raw milk cheeses in any style should be avoided during pregnancy. However, it also says that cheddar, Stilton and Parmesan are safe to eat, despite the fact that Stilton is not a hard cheese and, under the terms of its PDO, Parmesan is always made with raw milk.

“The new advice is confused and unclear,” said Ruth Raskin, quality care manager at The Fine Cheese Co. “I also think it’s fundamentally inaccurate. I would not categorise Stilton as a hard cheese and I would therefore not advise that it is safe to eat in pregnancy. 

“I agree that Parmesan is safe to eat in pregnancy, but its safety has absolutely nothing to do with pasteurisation. It is safe to eat because it does not have sufficient available water for listeria to flourish. Therefore if the cheese is contaminated by listeria, the listeria cannot multiply to sufficient numbers to pose a risk.”

The Fine Cheese Co has decided to continue to categorise mature, hard raw milk cheeses as safe to eat during pregnancy on its website and shops, but will make it clear to customers that its advice differs from NHS recommendations. 

“We have contacted the NHS to express our dismay at this advice and are currently hoping their advice may change,” said Raskin. “The new advice displays a fundamental misunderstanding of where the risk lies.”

Several other cheesemongers echoed Raskin’s thoughts. “It’s poor advice that doesn’t make scientific sense,” said Martin Gott, Cumbria-based cheesemaker and cheesemonger, while Mons cheesemonger Anne Hastings described the advice as a “retrograde step”. 

To add to the confusion, NHS Wales still continues to advise women that it is safe to eat raw and pasteurised hard cheeses, while NHS Scotland recommends that all raw milk cheeses are avoided. 

FFD contacted the Food Standards Agency, which is responsible for advising the NHS on the matter but had not received an answer at the time of going to press.

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