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Food Safety Tips for People with Cancer

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Cancer related image Photo: Getty Images

Foodborne illness, commonly referred to as “food poisoning", can make anyone sick. But people with weakened immune systems from chronic illnesses or those currently undergoing cancer treatments are at greater risk of experiencing a longer, more serious illness or death from eating contaminated food.

This year 1 in 6 Americans — 48 million — will get sick after eating food contaminated by harmful bacteria or other pathogens. As a result, 128,000 people will be hospitalized and roughly 3,000 will die, according to 2011 Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) figures.

You can’t see, taste or smell a food pathogen (disease-causing bacteria,
viruses, or parasites), so it’s important cancer survivors be especially vigilant when handling, cooking, and consuming foods.

The onset of food poisoning can occur within minutes after eating contaminated food or it may take weeks before you know you’re sick. The first symptoms are often flu-like, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or fever.

Foods most likely to contain pathogens fall into two categories: raw fruits and vegetables and animal products, such as unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses, uncooked eggs, meat, poultry, fish, seafood and their juices.

“The risk these foods may actually pose depends on its origin and
how it is processed, stored, and prepared,” reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The Partnership for Food Safety Education, a non-profit organization that brings together industry, food science, nutrition and health professionals, consumer groups, and the U.S. government to educate the public about safe food handling, recommends following these four basic steps to ensure food safety and minimize risk:

  • Clean: Bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, utensils, counter tops and food. To lessen risk, wash your hands often in warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds and keep work surfaces clean.

    Always wash produce under running water, including those with skins or rinds that are not eaten and clean off the tops of canned goods before opening.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.