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Holiday Food Safety for the Leukemia or Lymphoma Patient

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Updated October 14, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

No matter your cultural or religious background, many of our holiday celebrations involve feasting and food. However, if you have a weakened immune system as a result of leukemia or lymphoma, or treatment of these diseases, there are some important safety guidelines you should consider to avoid food borne illness.

General Food Safety Tips

Clean well. Wash your hands, food preparation areas, and cooking utensils often while preparing meals and snacks.

Cook well. To kill bacteria , ensure you cook foods thoroughly. Using a digital thermometer, measure the internal temperature of the food until it reaches safe levels.

  • Whole poultry (ie; turkey, duck or chicken)- 185ºF/ 85ºC
  • Leftovers, casseroles, stuffing, poultry pieces- 165ºF/ 74ºC
  • Pork, ground beef, and ground veal-160ºF/ 71ºC
  • Beef steaks and roasts- 145ºF/ 63ºC

Keep the temperature right Hot foods should be kept hot, and cold foods kept cold before eating. Refrigerate or freeze any leftovers within two hours.

Special Tips for Over the Holidays

  • Ensure that foods and drinks you consume are pasteurized. Some examples of foods to be especially concerned about over the holidays are cheeses, egg nog and ciders.

  • Avoid those raw oysters and seafood this year. Uncooked fish and seafood can carry a number of harmful bacteria and parasites than be very hazardous to those with weakened immune systems.

  • Keep an eye on that buffet table! If you have food and snacks laid out for guests to serve themselves, remember to keep hot foods hot, and cold foods cold. You may choose to use warming trays, chafing dishes, or crushed ice to achieve this. Also, use a clean platter or serving dish whenever you replenish buffet food.

  • Heading over to the home of friends or family? Use the same principles of safe food handling when traveling with food. Keep cold foods cold in a cooler with ice, or hot foods hot in an insulated tote.

  • Don’t lick the spoon. This may be the hardest principle of all! Batters and doughs that contain raw eggs should not be eaten uncooked, so keep yourself from nibbling until they come off the stove or out of the oven.

Signs of Food Poisoning

If you do get food poisoning, some symptoms you may experience are cramping stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, or fever. Since leukemia and lymphoma patients are at greater risk of developing serious health effects, you should see a healthcare provider if you become sick with a food borne illness.

Summing it Up

The immune system of patients with leukemia or lymphoma may be weakened, either as a result of their disease or as a side effect of their treatment. Following the principles of keeping cooked and raw foods separate, cooking all foods thoroughly, and keeping hot food hot and cold food cold can help decrease the chances of getting sick from harmful bacteria in food. This season, keep food safety in mind while you enjoy the treats of the holidays!

Sources

Health Canada. Update on holiday food safety. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/alt_formats/pacrb-dgapcr/pdf/iyh-vsv/food-aliment/holiday-fete-eng.pdf Accessed October 6, 2010.

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