Updated: Apr 9, 2021
If you've just moved here from the US, your only reference of toxoplasmosis in pregnancy is probably proximity to kitty litter. Here in Spain, there is another common culprit of toxoplasmosis infections. One of the foods women miss most during pregnancy is Spanish ham (jamón serrano or ibérico). What are the risks? Can a pregnant woman consume Spanish ham during pregnancy?
Risks of Toxoplasmosis
Toxoplasmosis is a an infection of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. If contracted during the first trimester of pregnancy (or the months leading up to it), this infection can have serious impacts such as congenital toxoplasmosis in the baby which may manifest in the form of blindness, epilepsy, and other defects. Risks to the baby decrease after the first trimester though transmission rates from mother to fetus increase.
In the US (and worldwide) women are warned against having any contact with cat feces which are the leading carrier for Toxoplasma gondii. Cured meats are another source of infection which is not a big deal in the US, but in Spain, where ham is a way of life, many doctors and midwives recommend refraining from eating it throughout pregnancy.
What About Antibodies?
Women who are infected with toxoplasmosis are typically asymptomatic. In Spain, a toxoplasmosis antibody test may be standard care depending on your doctor. If you test positive for antibodies your doctor may tell you it's safe for you to eat any types of Spanish ham.
If your antibody test comes back negative or you don't get an antibody test, can you still eat Spanish ham?
Here are some facts:
A study from 2012 found no viable forms of toxoplasmosis in a sample of cured meats
Another study found the salt concentration and curing period (more than 14 months) to be key. No Toxoplasma gondii were found in dry-cured ham:
"Our results indicate that curing salt concentration (3.9% NaCl, 25 mg/kg nitrate, and ,3 mg/kg nitrite) and the duration of the curing period (14 months) influence the inactivation of T. gondii; we found no parasites in dry-cured ham (14 months) with any of the diagnostic techniques used. The curing process employed in this study appears to produce hams that do not pose a serious concern to human health and therefore could be marketed and consumed without significant health risk." - Determination of the Viability of Toxoplasma gondii in Cured Ham Using Bioassay: Influence of Technological Processing and Food Safety Implications
"Cooking meat to an internal temperature of 66 C kills T. gondii." - Prevalence of viable Toxoplasma gondii in beef, chicken, and pork from retail meat stores in the United States: risk assessment to consumers
This new evidence from recent years suggests eating cured ham is safe during pregnancy as long as it's aged more than 18 months or frozen before eating and always from a reputable source. If you choose to freeze ham before eating it, it must be frozen three days before removing it from the freezer and thawed for no more than 24 hours before consumption.
Perhaps you don't have to wait until after pregnancy for that guilt-free bocata de jamón after all!
Are you missing, or did you miss, jamón during your pregnancy?
Links and References
Giving birth in Madrid or a new mom in Madrid? Looking for support on the wild ride called parenthood?
Look no further - book a free discovery call with me (Madison - doula in Madrid) today and let's chat about how together we can work to make your experience a positive one!