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  1. People at Risk of Foodborne Illness

Food Safety for People with Cancer

Brochure cover for Food Safety for people with cancer.

A need-to-know guide for those who have been diagnosed with cancer 

U.S. Department of Agriculture
Food Safety and Inspection Service

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Food and Drug Administration  
 

September 2006; Slightly revised September 2011

English (PDF - 3.03MB)

En español (PDF - 3.0MB)

Food safety is important for everyone – but it’s especially important for you. That’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Food and Drug Administration have prepared this booklet. It is designed to provide practical guidance on how to reduce your risk of foodborne illness. In addition to this guide, we encourage you to check with your physician or health care provider to indentify foods and other products that you should avoid. You have a special need for this important information . . . so read on!

When certain disease-causing bacteria, viruses or parasites contaminate food, they can cause foodborne illness.  Another word for such a bacteria, virus, or parasite is “pathogen.” Foodborne illness, often called food poisoning, is an illness that comes from a food you eat.

  • The food supply in the United States is among the safest in the world – but it can still be a source of infection for all persons.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million persons get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne infection and illness in the United States each year. Many of these people are children, older adults, or have weakened immune systems and may not be able to fight infection normally.

Since foodborne illness can be serious – or even fatal – it is important for you to know and practice safe food-handling behaviors to help reduce your risk of getting sick from contaminated food. 

As a cancer patient, your healthcare provider may have recommended that you take chemotherapy, radiation, or mediations to help fight your disease. A side effect of these therapies is that they may weaken your immune system. Cancer also may weaken your immune system over time due to its chronic disease process.

  • A properly functioning immune system works to clear infection and other foreign agents from the body.  However, cancer and its treatments can weaken your immune system – making you more susceptible to many types of infections.  These infections include those that can be brought on by disease-causing bacteria and other pathogens that cause foodborne illness.
  • Because you have cancer and are receiving cancer treatment, you are more likely to have a lengthier illness, undergo hospitalization, or even die, should you contract a foodborne illness.
  • To avoid contracting a foodborne illness, you must be vigilant when handling, preparing, and consuming foods.  

Make safe handling a lifelong commitment to minimize your risk of foodborne illness. Be aware that as you age, your immunity to infection naturally is weakened.

Download the Guide for Information on these Topics

  • Major Pathogens That Cause Foodborne Illness
  • Eating at Home: Making Wise Food Choices
  • Common Foods: Select the Lower Risk Options
  • Taking Care: Handling and Preparing Food Safely
  • Cold Storage Chart
  • In the Know: Becoming a Better Shopper
  • Food Product Dating
  • Transporting Your Groceries
  • Being Smart When Eating Out
  • Tips for Transporting Food
  • Foodborne Illness: Know the Symptoms
  • Foodborne Illness Action Plan

English (PDF - 3.03MB)

En español (PDF - 3.0MB)