A Stocked and Safe Kitchen

It is especially important to pay extra attention to food safety while you are being treated for cancer because some treatments weaken the immune system, which can lead to an increased risk of infection. A weakened immune system makes it more difficult for your body to fight off infections and diseases, including foodborne illnesses. Understanding proper food preparation, food handling techniques and food storage are essential to avoid cross-contamination.

Foodborne illnesses can be caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses and parasites and result in symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. Tell your doctor if you think you have a foodborne illness.

Four key ways to prevent foodborne illnesses:

  1. Clean. Wash hands frequently with hot, soapy water before and after handling food. Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly. Wash countertops, cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot, soapy water before and after preparing food and in between food items. Keep all other items off of tables or countertops where food is prepared. Cell phones are commonly used in kitchens now, but they can be harbingers of bacteria since people take their phones everywhere, including stores, work and bathrooms. Wash your hands after touching your cell phone and then returning to cooking.
  2. Separate. Take extra care when handling raw eggs, meats, poultry and seafood. Keep these foods and their juices away from all other foods. Also keep these items separate from all others in the grocery cart, grocery bags and in the fridge, and have a specific cutting board designated for only these foods.
  3. Cook. Food should be cooked thoroughly. Safe minimum food temperatures are as follows:
    • Beef (steaks and roasts): 145° F
    • Fish: 145° F (or until opaque and separates easily)
    • Pork: 160° F
    • Ground meat: 160° F
    • Eggs and egg dishes: 160° F
    • Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck, goose): 165° F
    • Casseroles and leftovers: 165° F (no cold spots)
  4. Refrigerate. Keep your refrigerator at 40° F or lower and your freezer at 0° F or lower (the growth of harmful bacteria are slowed at lower temperatures). Refrigerate perishables as soon as you bring them home. Thaw meats in the refrigerator or defrost them in the microwave. Do not rinse raw meat or poultry in water because it can splash bacteria to other surfaces. Store leftovers in small, shallow containers for quicker, more efficient cooling, and keep track of stored food so you can discard it when it’s no longer safe to eat.

Stocking Your Kitchen

Keep a variety of foods and snacks stocked in your kitchen for times when you need something simple to put together or for when you don’t feel like getting out. Following are staples to keep on hand:

Shelf-stable foods

  • Beans and rice
  • Canned meats
  • Canned vegetables
  • Peanut butter
  • Protein supplement drinks (instant breakfast)
  • Sauces
  • Soups

Refrigerated foods

  • Eggs
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Low-fat dairy products (milk, yogurt, sour cream and cheese)
  • Salad dressings and condiments (mustard and mayonnaise)
  • Sparkling water

Freezer foods

  • Bread
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Meats (beef, chicken, turkey, seafood)

Healthy Eating on a Budget

Many people think healthier food is more expensive. It can be, but consider the trade-off for adopting a diet that may help reduce your risk of a second cancer or recurrence. These suggestions may make healthier eating more cost-effective:

  • Plan meals ahead. Make a weekly grocery list to make fewer trips to the supermarket. Consider foods you already have on hand. It may be helpful to use a worksheet to plan your meals. Plan when to use leftovers.
  • Make a grocery list. Keep an ongoing list throughout the week that includes the recipes you’ve planned to make for the week. Stick to your list – avoid expensive impulse buys.
  • Look for deals. In addition to the grocery store, consider discount stores, supercenters and wholesale clubs. Read a grocery store’s sales flyer. Use coupons, which can be found in your local Sunday paper. Compare name brand prices with store brand prices. Consider joining a store’s loyalty program, which may provide special offers and discounts. Look into farmers markets and farm stands.
  • Be a smart shopper. Purchase produce when it is in season. When it isn’t, buy canned or frozen fruits and vegetables. Rice pasta and oatmeal are budget-friendly whole grain options. Buy meat in family-sized or value packs, split into individual servings and freeze. Other low-cost protein options include eggs, canned tuna, salmon, sardines, beans and peas. Leave sugary beverages and candy on the shelves.
  • Read the label. All products contain food labels showing the ingredients, serving size portion and nutritional values. Ask your dietitian for help understanding the labels.
  • Save time in the kitchen. Stay organized, clear counters, chop vegetables ahead of time (and chop extra to freeze), double the recipes to make extras and clean up as you go instead of saving it all until after the food has been served and eaten.
  • Look for assistance. Research whether you qualify for any nutrition assistance programs, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
  • Be mindful of portion control. It is common to serve a portion that is larger than the box or label calls for. Sticking to the proper portions is healthier and allows you to get more meals.
  • Eat more meals at home. Preparing food at home is usually less expensive than eating out. When you do eat out, ask your server to box up half your meal and serve the other half to you. You won’t overeat, and you will get two servings from one meal. You also have more control over food safety and cross-contamination. When your immune system is lowered, you may prefer to avoid being around a crowd of people.