Nutrition and Childhood Cancer
Food Safety

Good nutrition is important for all children. A child with a cancer diagnosis may have additional nutritional needs or challenges.

Food safety is another important part of making good food choices. While food safety is important for all children, it is especially important for children with a cancer diagnosis. Children with a cancer diagnosis may be immunosuppressed from treatment, meaning their body is not able to fight off illness and infection. According to Foodsafety.gov, even without a cancer diagnosis, children under 5 years of age are at greater risk for foodborne illnesses. Here are simple things you can teach your child about food safety.

Wash hands regularly. Your children should wash their hands frequently especially before eating, after the using the bathroom or after playing with pets or playing outside. Teach your children to wash their hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds by counting to 20 slowly or singing the ABCs.

Keep food on the plate. Don’t put food or snacks on dirty surfaces such as counters, tables, and floors. Even if it looks clean, it may not be. Always use clean plates or napkins.

Rinse fruits and veggies with water before eating or cutting. Rinsing fruits and vegetables helps remove any remaining dirt or germs.

Some foods need to stay cold. You probably already know which foods need to stay in the refrigerator or freezer, but your children may not. These foods include meats, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, sliced fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and leftovers. Do not leave cold foods or cooked food out for longer than two hours. Cold foods and cooked foods need to go in the refrigerator. Let your child know where specific foods belong in your kitchen. Remind your child to always shut the refrigerator and freezer doors.

Always store food properly. Give your children instructions on how to safely store food such as always closing lids tightly or sealing the zip lock bag. Do not leave any foods uncovered or out in the open. Learn more about food storage on the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) website.

Pack school lunches safely. Use an insulated lunch bag with ice pack or frozen drink to keep cold foods cold. Keep the lunch bag out of direct sunlight. After school, wipe out the bag with a disinfecting wipe. Tell your children to throw away what they didn’t eat at lunch. Do not save cold foods to be eat later in the day.

Do not share food with others. If your child is immunocompromised from treatment, tell your child not to share food or drinks with other people. Unless the person is an adult who has washed their hands, do not eat food that other people have touched. Do not eat food that another person has bitten. If someone asks for your food, politely tell the person no.

When in doubt, throw it out. Teach your child that if something has a bad smell or has been in the refrigerator or panty a long time, it may not be safe to eat. Tell them to check the expiration date or ask an adult to check it for them. If they are unsure about a food, do not eat it. Even foods that don’t look, taste, or smell bad can contain harmful bacteria.

Talk about which foods to avoid. Certain foods carry a higher risk of foodborne illness such as raw or unpasteurized foods. An immunosuppressed child needs to avoid these food. Review the list of these foods to avoid with your child so he or she can decline them if you are not there.

Tell your child not to eat chicken or beef that is still pink inside. The only way to know for sure if meat is cooked safely is to measure its internal temperature. However, meat that is still pink may be an obvious sign to you that meat may be undercooked, but your child may not know.

Follow food safety guidelines when cooking. If your child is older and may be preparing some meals and snacks on their own, teach him or her about food safety while cooking such as keeping raw meats separate from other foods and to cook foods to the proper internal temperature. Learn more about cooking food safely here.

Be first in line. If your child is immunosuppressed and you are not able to pack lunches for school, ask your child’s teacher if your child can go through lunch line first birthday parties or other events, ask if your child can go first through the food line. Avoid buffets if possible. You don’t know if other people have touched the food or how long the food has been sitting out.

Resources

Visit the USDA website for an activity book and other resources to teach your child about food safety.