September was National Food Safety Education Month, and while the month may have already come and gone, we should never forget the importance of food safety, especially for our oncology patients.
Cancer and cancer treatments can make patients susceptible to infections, including those caused by food-borne bacteria. We should all be educating patients and caregivers on the importance of food safety. Often family and friends are preparing food, and they, too, need to be reminded that a patient’s immune system may be impaired, so being extra vigilant about food safety is essential.
Here are four steps to help reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses:
WASH – Wash hands in warm, soapy water before preparing foods and after handling raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Be sure to dry hands with paper towels, a clean kitchen towel, or allow them to air dry. Keep the countertops, appliances, cutting boards, and utensils clean with hot, soapy water, or use an anti-bacterial cleaning solution safe for the kitchen. If possible, run the cutting boards through the dishwasher cycle.
SEPARATE – Use two cutting boards, one for meat and one for ready-to-eat foods such as fruits, vegetables, and bread. Discard the boards if there are lots of cracks or crevices, as food particles can settle in the grooves. Store meats, poultry, and fish on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator so juices don’t drip onto other foods. Put washed produce in clean bags, not the original bag it was purchased in.
COOK – Make sure foods are cooked well. Ideally, use a food thermometer (and be sure to wash the thermometer after use). Myrecipes.com has a chart that is a good resource for proper temperatures of cooked foods. This chart can also be downloaded as a PDF and printed -- a good reminder for everyone!
REFRIGERATE – Refrigerate leftovers to less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit within two hours. If you have a large volume (such as soup), first divide it into smaller containers, then refrigerate. Thaw foods in the refrigerator or under cool running water, not on the countertop (remember this, come Thanksgiving and turkey time)!
And lastly, if something doesn’t look good or smells bad, throw it out! Better to spend money on more food than spend time being sick!