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Safe eating during cancer treatment

Be Careful What You Eat

When you have cancer, you need good nutrition to help keep your body strong. To do this you will need to watch 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 doctor or nurse about how to eat well but safely.

When you eat eggs:

  • 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 Caesar salad dressing, 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 cojita).

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 can or bottle.

Do not eat raw honey. Eat only heat-treated honey. Avoid sweets that have creamy fillings.

Know How to Cook Foods Safely

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

Do not buy uncooked tofu. Tofu should be cooked for at least 5 minutes.

When eating chicken and other poultry:

  • Cook whole pieces of poultry to 180 °F.
  • Cook ground poultry to 165 °F.

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

  • Make sure meat is not red or pink before you eat it.
  • Cook meat to 160 °F.

When eating fish, oysters, and other shellfish:

  • Do not eat raw fish or oysters, or any other raw shellfish.
  • Make sure all fish and shellfish you eat is cooked through.

Heat all casseroles to 165 °F. Heat hot dogs and lunch meats to steaming before you eat them.

Be Careful When You Eat out

When you eat 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. Nutrition in cancer care (PDQ). November 13, 2011. Accessed May 19, 2012.

Updated: 6/5/2012

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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