Diet during cancer treatment: Tips on avoiding infections from food

August 3, 2014 | by

Cancer is hard enough on the immune system, and chemotherapy takes an additional toll. This double blow to the immune system means cancer patients are more likely to develop infections than people not fighting cancer.

food preparation for cancer patients

Everyday foods can pose a special threat to cancer patients. One tip to make food safer for people undergoing cancer treatment: Use separate cutting boards for meat and fruits/vegetables.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one out of every 10 cancer patients receiving chemotherapy develops an infection that requires a hospital visit.

Sometimes, infections come from foods that people without cancer could consume with few concerns. For that reason, cancer patients or the people preparing food for them should take extra precautions when handling food.

Maintaining a proper diet during cancer treatment is crucial. Avoiding infections is crucial as well. The National Cancer Institute offers these tips on reducing the risk of infections from food:

When preparing food:

  • Scrub all raw fruits and vegetables before eating. Do not eat foods, like raspberries and blackberries, that cannot be washed well. Scrub fruits and vegetables that have rough surfaces, before you cut into them.
  • Wash your hands, knives and counter tops before and after you prepare food, especially when preparing meats and poultry.
  • Designate one cutting board for meat and one for fruits and vegetables.

When storing and cooking food

  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Put leftovers in the refrigerator as soon as you are done eating.
  • Thaw meat, chicken, turkey and fish in the refrigerator or defrost them in the microwave. Do not leave them sitting out.
  • Cook foods thoroughly and use a thermometer. Meats should not have any pink inside and eggs should not be runny. Meats should be cooked to 160° F and poultry to 180° F.

In restaurants and at grocery stores:

  • Do not eat raw fish or shellfish.
  • Make sure that all of your juices, milk products and honey are pasteurized. Pasteurized foods are heated to a temperature hot enough to kill the bacteria that cause food poisoning.
  • Do not buy foods from bulk bins.
  • Always keep an eye on the freshness date.
  • Do not eat at buffets, salad bars or self-service restaurants.
  • Do not eat aged cheese such as bleu cheese, Gorgonzola and Roquefort.

The American Cancer Society offers a helpful chart of recommended foods and foods to avoid.

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