Poor food safety at home could lead to serious consequences for those with suppressed immune systems. pdsci/Shutterstock
Whether knowingly or not, even the healthiest eaters may not follow the best food safety practices. Advice on how to properly handle and store food, for example, is not always adhered to, which can lead to serious illnesses. Eating nutritious food alone is not enough to keep your body at its optimum. Food needs to be safe, too – particularly if you have a compromised immune system.
Chemotherapy treatment can reduce immune function and the body’s ability to defend against opportunistic pathogens. It is well documented that people undergoing chemotherapy are at an increased risk of infection, including those transmitted via food. In fact, food poisoning like campylobacteriosis, listeriosis and salmonellosis are more prevalent among cancer patients.
This is not just about suffering through a tummy bug. People who are already undergoing the gruelling side effects of chemotherapy can be made seriously ill simply because the food they are eating isn’t being handled properly at home. Added to that is the fact that food borne infection could cause delays in treatment, and potentially increase patient mortality.
But the problem is not down to patients’ laziness. In our newly published research, we have found that they are not being given consistent information, nor do they recognise the serious risks that food can pose.
In our study, we investigated the availability and adequacy of food safety information available to UK cancer patients. We looked at online food-related resources, and conducted in-depth interviews with patients and their families on their food experiences during chemotherapy treatment.
Although some food safety information exists for chemotherapy patients, their access to it is limited. In total, we found just 45 resources online that related to food safety. These included 35 from the 154 NHS chemotherapy providers in England, Scotland and Wales, the Department of Health, and three from 184 identified UK cancer charities.
Sickness on top of illness. ESUN7756/Shutterstock
Looking at the content, 67% of the food-related information resources we identified included food safety advice – for example, “ensure eggs are thoroughly cooked”. Guidance on hand decontamination routines, such as hand washing, was most frequently included (49%). But information on how to reduce the risk of listeriosis, or safe alternatives to particular foods – such as unpasteurised dairy products, and raw or under-cooked meat – were lacking.