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Safe eating during cancer treatment

Alternative Names

Cancer treatment - eating safely; Chemotherapy - eating safely; Immunosuppression - eating safely; Low white blood cell count - eating safely; Neutropenia - eating safely

Be Careful What You Eat

When you have cancer, you need good nutrition to help keep your body strong. To do this you need to be aware of the foods you eat and how you prepare them.

Some raw foods can contain germs that can hurt you when cancer or treatment weakens your immune system. Ask your health care provider about how to eat well and safely.

Eggs can have a bacteria called Salmonella on their inside and outside. This is why eggs should be cooked completely before eating.

  • Yolks and whites should be cooked solid. DO NOT eat runny eggs.
  • DO NOT eat foods that may have raw eggs in them (such as certain Caesar salad dressings, cookie dough, cake batter, and hollandaise sauce).

Be careful when you have dairy products:

  • All milk, yogurt, cheese, and other dairy should have the word pasteurized on their containers.
  • DO NOT eat soft cheeses or cheeses with blue veins (such as Brie, Camembert, Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola, and Bleu).
  • DO NOT eat Mexican-style cheeses (such as queso blanco fresco and cotija).

Fruits and vegetables:

  • Wash all raw fruits, vegetables, and fresh herbs with cold running water.
  • DO NOT eat raw vegetable sprouts (such as alfalfa and mung bean).
  • DO NOT use fresh salsa or salad dressings that are kept in the refrigerated cases of the grocery store.
  • Drink only juice that says pasteurized on the container.

DO NOT eat raw honey. Eat only heat-treated honey. Avoid sweets that have creamy fillings.

Cook Foods Safely

When you cook, make sure you cook your food long enough.

DO NOT eat uncooked tofu. Cook tofu for at least 5 minutes.

When eating chicken and other poultry, cook to a temperature of 165°F (74°C). Use a food thermometer to measure the thickest part of the meat.

If you cook beef, lamb, pork, or venison:

  • DO NOT eat raw meat, such as Japanese sashimi.
  • Make sure meat is not red or pink before you eat it.
  • Cook meat to 160°F (74°C).

When eating fish, oysters, and other shellfish:

  • DO NOT eat raw fish (such as sushi), raw oysters, or any other raw shellfish.
  • Make sure all fish and shellfish you eat is cooked thoroughly.

Heat all casseroles to 165°F (73.9°C). Warm hot dogs and lunch meats to steaming before you eat them.

Be Careful When You Eat Out

When you dine out, stay away from:

  • Raw fruits and vegetables
  • Salad bars, buffets, sidewalk vendors, potlucks, and delis

Ask if all fruit juices are pasteurized.

Use only salad dressings, sauces, and salsas from single-serving packages. Eat out at times when restaurants are less crowded. Always ask for your food to be prepared fresh, even at fast food restaurants.

References

National Cancer Institute: PDQ Nutrition in cancer care. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated January 8, 2016. www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/appetite-loss/nutrition-hp-pdq. Accessed March 20, 2016.

Rock CL, Doyle C, Demark-Wahnefried W, et al. Nutrition and physical activity guidelines for cancer survivors. CA Cancer J Clin. 2012;62(4):243-274. PMID: 22539238 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22539238.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Foodsafety.gov. Cook to the right temperature. www.foodsafety.gov/keep/basics/cook/index.html. Accessed March 20, 2016.

Review Date:2/6/2016
Reviewed By:Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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