Disease like cancer along with its intense treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and bone marrow/stem cell transplants, surgery can weaken the immune system. A full-functioning immune system protects the body from various infections and foreign bodies.

Cancer patients are more susceptible to infections. This makes it difficult for the body to protect itself from foodborne illness, also called food poisoning. Foodborne illness is caused by eating food contaminated with harmful bacteria, parasites, or viruses. Hence, safe food handling practice becomes crucial for people undergoing cancer therapies.

Listed below are some simple steps for food safety during cancer treatment that can lower the risk of food-borne infections.

  1. Cleaning: Washing hands is the first step towards food hygiene

  • Wash hands in warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or handling pets.
  • Thoroughly clean fresh fruit and vegetables under running water by scrubbing or brushing to remove excess dirt. This helps to avoid introducing bacteria to fruits.
  1. Avoiding cross-contamination: Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria are spread from one food product to another
  • Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from other foods in your grocery shopping cart, grocery bags, and in your refrigerator
  • Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs without first washing the plate with hot soapy water.
  1. Cooking: Be very sure that your foods are cooked safely
  • Make sure that the meat, poultry, seafood, or egg product is thoroughly cooked. A food thermometer can be useful in certain cases to ensure a safe temperature.
    Cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm. Use only recipes in which the eggs are cooked or heated thoroughly.
    c. Bring soups, and gravy to a boil when reheating.
  1. Storing:
  • Always prefer eating freshly cooked foods.
  • Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, and other perishables within 2 hours of cooking or purchasing.
  • Avoid keeping food between 40ºF and 140ºF as it favors the growth of bacteria.
  • Check that temperature of your refrigerator is at 40 ºF or below.

Precautions when eating out:

  • Prefer eating freshly cooked home foods.
  • Ask the waiter or chef whether the food contains uncooked ingredients such as eggs, meat, poultry, or fish. If yes, choose something else
  • Choose food in which you are sure your food has been cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature.
  • Order your meal before everyone else as others may influence your decision of healthy eating.
  • In buffets, forget the notorious notion of eating all you can eat. Food that may contain undercooked foods or foods that have been at room temperature for too long should be strictly avoided.
  • Sticking to a vegetarian diet can reduce the risk of contamination. You can go for warm and fresh phulkas, bhakri, chappati, parathas, and puri with properly cooked vegetable curries.
  • Steamed rice along with dal and pulses preparation can be a good choice too. Vegetable pulav or vegetable biryani is also safe and a good option
  • Avoid salad and raitas of all forms.
  • Avoid fermented and preserved food items like papad, pickles, sprouts, etc.
  • Curd, buttermilk, paneer, and cheese should be avoided if not cooked as they may host bacteria that can poorly affect your digestive system.
  • Say “No” to peeled and cut fruits as those are breeding grounds of bacteria too and may lend up to food-borne illness.

Some more tips to be Food Safe

  • Read ‘Use By’ and expiration dates on fresh and packaged foods.
  • Avoid consuming sprouted legumes and pulses.
  • Avoid raw or undercooked eggs, meat, and fish.
  • Stay “Food Safe” when traveling. Carry home-cooked food and drink water.
  • Know the Symptoms of food-borne illness, these include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Contact your physician or healthcare provider right away.

 Refer the related  blog also for better health & nutrition during cancer treatment here: