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Food Safety

Learn about food safety for people with cancer in this guide from The ONE Group (Oncology – Nutrition – Exercise) at Penn State College of Medicine.

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What you should know

Why is food safety important?

As a result of chemotherapy and radiation, cancer patients may develop neutropenia – a decrease in white blood cells that fight infection, which leads to a weaker immune system.

This is one reason why food safety is important for cancer patients.

Symptoms of foodborne illness

Some symptoms of a foodborne illness you might experience are diarrhea, abdominal pain/cramping, upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, fever, headache and muscle pains.

When you suspect you have a foodborne illness, call your doctor right away and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.

What you can do: Eating safely

If you suspect you have a foodborne illness

Call your doctor right away and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.

Foods to avoid

  • Raw or uncooked meat, poultry, seafood and sushi
  • Unpasteurized or raw milk
  • Raw nuts or fresh nut butter
  • Raw or undercooked eggs
  • Soft, mold-ripened cheeses and queso
  • Cold hot dogs and deli meats
  • Yogurt and ice cream from a soft-serve machine
  • Unwashed fresh produce
  • Raw sprouts, alfalfa, etc.
  • Purchased pre-cut fruits or vegetables
  • Raw honey
  • Unrefrigerated, cream-filled pastries

Foods to eat

  • Meat, poultry and seafood cooked to a safe internal temperature
  • Pasteurized milk
  • Cooked eggs with a firm yolk
  • Washed fresh produce or cooked produce
  • Hard cheeses or soft cheeses made from pasteurized milk
  • Reheated hot dogs or deli meat (steaming hot or 165 degrees F)
  • Cooked sprouts

Food safety tips

  • Wash your hands and surfaces often. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after preparing food.
  • Keep raw meat and poultry separate from ready-to-eat foods.
  • Don’t reuse the same rag. Rags can hold bacteria; instead, wipe the kitchen surface with disinfectant wipes.
  • Don’t cross-contaminate. Make sure to store raw meats away from cooked food.
  • Refrigerate food right away to reduce bacterial growth. To prevent a foodborne illness, make sure your refrigerator is set at 40 degrees F or below.
  • Chill perishable foods within two hours.
  • Look at the expiration date. If an item is expired, throw it out.
  • Cook foods to a safe internal temperature (See below.).

Safe minimum internal temperatures

Following are the safe minimal internal temperatures for cooking meat and poultry:

  • 145 degrees F – Beef, pork, lamb and veal (with a three-minute rest time)
  • 160 degrees F – Ground meat
  • 165 degrees F – All poultry

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Am I at increased risk for foodborne illness? How long will this risk last?
  • What steps should I take to prevent foodborne illness?
  • Which foods require special preparation to prevent foodborne illness?
  • What treatment do you recommend for my foodborne illness?
  • How can I prevent dehydration?
  • Is there anything else I should be asking?



  • from ASCO
  • Cancer Nutrition Consortium
  • Minnesota Oncology
  • Stanford Health Care