Preparing meals for a cancer patients is a stressful process: making healthy, appetizing foods that appeal to their changing tastes can be difficult.
Caregivers also have practice safe food handling in order to prevent food-borne illness. Believe it or not, it does not have to be overwhelming – there is an easy place to start!
Clean – Separate – Cook – Chill
This process ensures safe food handling by washing your hand and surfaces often, separating raw meats from other foods, cooking food to the right temperature, and refrigerating promptly. It can seem daunting, but arranging your kitchen appropriately and making sure you have the necessary tools for safe food handling can make the process a little bit easier.
Tips to optimize safe food handling process
Clean – Before you begin cooking, make sure your kitchen is clean and free of clutter. Your kitchen should have:
- Clean dish clothes and dish towels. These should be changed daily to prevent them from contaminating clean dishes. If you use sponges, be sure to replace them weekly. Sponges can also be easily sterilized by microwaving wet for two minutes.
- Clean surfaces. A sanitizing solution can be mixed by adding two teaspoons of chlorine bleach to one quart of water – use this to wipe down surfaces, then rinse with clean water and allow to air dry.
- Multiple clean cutting boards. If you will be making a meal that requires both raw meat and raw vegetables, these should be prepared on separate cutting boards to prevent cross contamination.
- Food thermometer. For certain dishes, it is wise to actually check the temperature of the food to ensure it has reached an appropriate level to prevent foodborne illnesses.
- Hand soap. Believe it or not, the most important food safety practice is hand washing! Whether using hand sanitizer or plenty of soap and water, try to “wash” your hands for at least 20 seconds. Wash your hands before each step of the food preparation process.
With a fully prepared kitchen, you are now ready to begin prepping your food. Be sure to read through the recipe all the way at least once. Have all the tools and equipment ready in the order you will need them. This keeps you from having to search through cabinets or drawers with unclean hands midway through.
Meats, poultry, and seafood should be prepped closer to the cooking area. That way, you won’t have to carry raw protein across the kitchen, potentially dripping and contaminating other foods and clean areas. Alternatively, prepare your vegetables closer to the sink. Water dripping from washed produce could also contaminate other foods or clean surfaces. Be sure to wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly – either by rinsing under running water, by soaking in clean water for 1-2 minutes, or by scrubbing with a clean produce brush (if produce is firm or has a thick skin). Produce can then be dried with a clean dish towel or paper towels, but remember to replace your dish towel with a clean one before drying any clean dishware.
After separately preparing your meats and produce, you now have to cook them! For cancer patients with compromised immune systems, it is particularly important to prevent foodborne illnesses. Cooking foods to the safe, appropriate temperatures ensures that any contaminants are destroyed. Know the right temperatures!
It is equally important to chill and store your leftovers at the safe appropriate temperatures. Cooked foods should be cooled to an internal temperature of 41ºF within 4 hours and cooking. Set your refrigerator between 34ºF and 40ºF and your freezer between -2ºF and 0ºF to ensure your food is being stored at a safe temperature. For large leftovers, such as your Thanksgiving turkey, it may wise to break down leftovers into smaller portions so that the chilling and reheating can be done quicker and easier.
Planning and organizing your kitchen before cooking safeguards you and your family against foodborne illnesses while also making it easier to prepare healthy, nourishing meals for you and your loved one!