Eating healthy during the holidays is more than avoiding certain foods, textures or flavors—it’s about keeping food safe for everyone lined up at buffets and tables.
During this time of year, it’s important for our patients, caregivers and their families to add food safety to their list of ingredients when preparing and handling their holiday meals.
Cancer and cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and stem cell/bone marrow transplantation, often weaken the immune system, making it harder for the body to protect itself from foodborne illness.
Foodborne infections affect about 76 million people each year across the nation, say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When food isn’t properly prepared or stored, bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli can contaminate food and cause serious infections. For cancer patients, this can be severe and sometimes life-threatening.
• Wash your hands. Hand washing before handling food is essential and can easily prevent the spread of germs and infections.
• Keep hot foods at 140-degrees ºF or higher and cold foods at 40 degrees ºF or lower.
• Refrigerate foods promptly. Do not let perishable foods such as turkey, gravy, or stuffing sit out of the refrigerator longer than two hours.
• Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables before eating.
• Discard leftovers after three days.
• Avoid undercooked foods and any dishes that may contain raw eggs. Raw oysters and fish (sushi) should also be avoided.
• Consume only pasteurized dairy products, including pasteurized milk and eggnog.
• Do not eat raw cookie dough. It is best to wait until the cookies are baked. Uncooked eggs in cookie dough may contain harmful bacteria.
• Refrigerate pumpkin pie. Bacteria grow in moist foods that contain eggs and milk, such as custard and pumpkin pie. Keep these foods refrigerated at all times after baking. Do not leave them longer than two hours at room temperature.
For more ideas on healthy eating during the holidays or to make an appointment with a registered dietitian, contact SCCA Medical Nutrition Therapy Services at firstname.lastname@example.org. Weekly food safety classes are also offered at SCCA year-round for all patients and caregivers.
Paula Charuhas Macris, MS, RD, CSO, FAND, is a registered dietitian at SCCA.