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Food Safety for People with Cancer

Older Asian woman preparing foods in the kitchen.September is Food Safety Education Month as well as the official awareness month for eight different cancers.  While the connection between cancer and food safety may not be obvious, being food safe while undergoing cancer treatment is crucial. People undergoing cancer treatments are highly susceptible to many types of infections, including those brought on by Salmonella, E. coli, or other foodborne pathogens.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out that chemotherapy and radiation therapy decrease a patient’s white blood cell count—the body’s main defense against infections. With a low white blood cell count, any infection, including foodborne illnesses, can become severe. For people with cancer, unsafe food handling can result in lengthy illnesses, hospitalizations, or even death.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have some suggestions for people with cancer as well as their caregivers and healthcare providers to help those at high risk avoid foodborne illnesses.

Making Better Decisions with Food

Some foods present a higher risk for people with cancer than others. The risk level of these foods depends on its source and how the food is processed, stored, and prepared. While these foods are healthy and offer great sources of nutrients needed by cancer patients, precautions should be taken when preparing or eating these foods.  You can find a list of these high risk foods with guidance on how to make them safer to eat on our “Food Safety for People with Cancer” infographic.

For More Information

If you have any questions or would like to order some of our educational materials, call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHOTLINE (1-888-674-6854) or email You can also chat live with a food safety specialist at available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, English or Spanish.

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Posted in: At-Risk | Food SafetyTagged: Food Safety Salmonella