/ by Sean O'Nan, MS, RD, LD
Written by Sean O'Nan, a registered dietitian at UK Markey Cancer Center.
During the holiday season, when many of us are eating on the go more often and sharing festive meals with our friends and extended families, it’s especially important to be mindful of food safety. No one wants to be sick and miss out on the fun.
Food safety is especially important for those undergoing treatment for cancer.
Different types of cancers require different types of treatments, and some of these treatments can lower your white blood cell levels and decrease your body’s ability to fight off infections. If foods are not cleaned and prepared properly, you are at a higher risk for developing infections from foodborne illnesses, which can make you feel worse and delay treatment.
Here are a few easy ways to help reduce your risk for foodborne illnesses:
- Check food temperatures.
Make sure all meats, eggs, dairy, etc. are cooked and stored at the proper temperatures.
Follow these guidelines to make sure that your food is cooked to the right temperature. All meats need to be cooked fully or “well-done” – no pink in the middle. Remember to refrigerate leftovers immediately after eating!
- Wash fruits and vegetable thoroughly.
Scrub and rinse all fruits and vegetables well before eating them. Avoid fruits and vegetables that are difficult to wash or that have small holes in them, such as broccoli florets, raspberries, etc.
- Use clean cooking tools.
Wash all cutting boards, knives and other cooking utensils between the preparations of different foods. This helps prevent cross-contamination of foods that may have different cooking temperatures.
If you are using a food thermometer, remember to clean and sanitize the probe end of the thermometer between uses to prevent the re-contamination of prepared foods.
- Avoid eating at buffets or self-service restaurants.
These foods have often been sitting out on a cooling or warming table for an extended period of time. This can increase the chances of bacteria growth or exposure to other contaminants, including people, cross-contamination, etc.
- Do not eat food past the freshness date.
These dates can be used to determine if a food is at higher risk of spoiling. If it is past the date labeled on the packaging or if the food appears to be spoiled, do not eat it!
There are many different types of treatment, so be sure to speak with your healthcare team to determine which food safety practices are best for you. Remember that when eating foods prepared by friends and family at holiday parties or family meals, the food needs to have been prepared following these safety guidelines. If you are unsure of how a dish was prepared, it is better to avoid that food than risk getting sick!
Read more about food safety with these guidelines from the FDA.