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 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 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 whole pieces of poultry to 180 °F.
- Cook ground poultry to 165 °F.
If you cook beef, lamb, pork, or venison:
- Do not eat raw mean, such as Japanese sashimi.
- 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 (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. 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.
Bozetti F, Bozzetti V. Principles and management of nutritional support in cancer. In: Walsh D, Caraceni AT, Fainswinger R, et al., eds. Palliative Medicine. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2008:chap 106.
National Cancer Institute: Nutrition in Cancer Care (PDQ®). Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated February, 26, 2014. http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/nutrition/HealthProfessional. Accessed May 7, 2014.
Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.