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Learning About Eating Safely With a Low White Blood Count

Why do you need to be careful with food?

Cancer and its treatments can cause your white blood cell count to drop. This means your immune system is weakened. And when this happens, you are more likely to get an infection. Taking special care with food handling can help you avoid infections.

What should you look for when shopping for food?

  • Buy wrapped, pre-packaged foods, such as breads, bagels, muffins, rolls, cereals, noodles, and rice. Avoid open-bin bulk foods.
  • Look for foods that are packed as single servings. You will be less likely to have leftovers, which can spoil quickly.
  • Buy only pasteurized dairy products and pasteurized juices. Avoid raw milk, any yogurt or cheeses made with raw milk, and unpasteurized juice.
  • Be sure to wash all fresh fruits and vegetables well. You may want to switch from fresh fruits and vegetables to cooked, canned, or frozen fruits and vegetables during treatment.
  • Make sure that canned foods are safe. Check sell-by dates, and look for dents and other damage. Don't buy damaged or out-of-date cans.

What are safe food-handling practices?

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water before and after you handle food. And wash your hands before you eat.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before you cut or peel them.
  • Throw out any fruits or vegetables that are mouldy.
  • Wash the tops of canned foods with soap and warm water before you open them.
  • Clean counters and cutting boards with soap and hot water, or use a bleach solution. To dilute household bleach, follow the directions on the label.
  • Keep your refrigerator at or below 4ºC (40º F).
  • Keep your freezer at or below -18°C (0°F).
  • Store food safely.
  • Health Canada has more information on safe food handling for immunocompromised individuals.

What are some safe cooking practices?

  • Cook meats, poultry, and fish until they are well done.
  • Cook eggs until the yolks and whites are solid.
  • Don't let foods sit out and reach room temperature.
  • Thaw meat in the refrigerator. Don't thaw meat on a counter or anywhere at room temperature.

What should you know about eating in restaurants?

  • Avoid salad bars, buffets, and deli counters.
  • Choose restaurants that practice good hygiene and safe food handling. In Alberta, you can check restaurant health inspection reports online.
  • Order only fully cooked foods and well-done meats. Avoid all raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Don't eat foods that contain raw fish, such as sushi.
  • Some dressings and sauces may be made with raw egg yolks, like caesar salad dressing and carbonara sauce. Before ordering, ask your server if these foods contain raw egg yolk. If they do, avoid them.

Where can you learn more?

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