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Eating safely


Guidelines for buying, storing, and preparing food to help you and your family eat safely

Food poisoning can occur if a person eats or drinks something that contains harmful germs (mold and bacteria). In healthy people, the body is well equipped to fight off these harmful germs. However, some people have weak immune systems caused by illnesses or their treatments. These people have a much higher risk for food poisoning, and they need to be extra careful with the food they eat.

Discard food that has been sitting at room temperature for more than 1 hour.

Shopping for Food

Inspect Packages

  • Do not use products that are past the “Expiration,” “Sell By,” or “Best Used By” date.
  • Do not use items that have dents, holes, rust, bulges, or leaks.
  • Look for the word “pasteurized” on the labels of milk, cheese, and other milk products, as well as pasteurized juices.
    • Pasteurized means the product has gone through a process that helps kill germs.

Use a Safe Shopping Pattern

  • First, collect canned items or dry packaged items.
  • Next, pick up fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Last, select refrigerated and frozen items.
    • Place packages of raw meat in separate plastic bags before placing in the shopping cart to prevent germs on the wrapping from spreading to other items.
  • After shopping, get cold and frozen items into the refrigerator or freezer right away.

Preparing Food

Wash Hands Often and Clean Food Prep Surfaces

  • Wash hands before, during, and after meal preparation and before serving food.
  • Washing hands greatly reduces the risk of food-borne illnesses.
  • Clean counters before you begin preparing food.
  • Clean lids on all canned items before opening.

Keep Raw Meats and Ready to Eat Foods Separate

  • Use two cutting boards to prevent cross contamination.
    • Use one board for raw meats and seafood and one for ready to eat foods like vegetables.
    • Clean cutting board with soap and warm water after each use.

Fruits and Vegetables

  • Always wash fruits and vegetables:
    • Scrub firm or bumpy produce - such as melons and cucumbers - with a clean produce brush under running water. After washing, dry produce with a clean paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present on the surface.
    • Wash lettuce, spinach, and berries with cold running water. Avoid blackberries and raspberries; they do not wash well.
  • Do not eat fruits that are bruised or have torn skin.

Thawing Food

  • Thaw foods in the refrigerator, microwave oven, or in a water tight plastic bag set in cold water.
    • If using cold water, change the water every 30 minutes.
    • If using microwave oven, cook right way after thawing.
  • Never thaw foods on the kitchen counter because germs grow rapidly at room temperature.

Cook to Proper Temperatures

  • Harmful bacteria are killed when food is cooked to proper temperatures.
  • Buy a food thermometer and use it to check if food is at a safe temperature.
    • Hot items should be 165°F or hotter; Cold items should be 40°F or colder.

Storing Food

  • Throw away food that has mold on it. Cutting off the mold will not remove the harmful germs.
  • Store raw meats in a separate bin or shelf below cooked foods.

Refrigerate Promptly

  • After you finish eating, put cooked food in the refrigerator (at 40°F) or freezer (at 0°F) as soon as possible.
  • Food will cool more quickly if you use a covered, shallow container.
  • Never leave any food out on the counter for longer than one (1) hour.

How long are foods safe in the refrigerator?

  • Eggs: 7 to 14 days 
  • Raw meats: 1 to 2 days
  • Raw fish and seafood: 1 to 2 days 
  • Luncheon meat: 3 to 5 days
  • Raw fruits and vegetables: 7 days 
  • Milk: 5 days
  • Leftovers: 3 to 4 days

Eating Out

  • Ask how the food is prepared.
  • Request thoroughly cooked foods.
    • If food is served undercooked, send it back.
  • Avoid foods that contain raw or undercooked eggs.
  • At fast food restaurants, special order your food to make sure it has not been sitting under a heating lamp. Always ask them to cook food fresh.
  • Avoid all food buffets and salad bars.
  • Check health inspection rating (score) for the restaurant. Score must be 95 or greater.
  • Request single-serving condiment packets.


  • Go straight home and put leftovers in refrigerator. (Only reheat once to 165°F and eat right away.)
  • Avoid leftover rice and pasta.

Do Not Eat or Drink

Raw or Undercooked Eggs

(or any product containing raw or undercooked eggs)

  • Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm.

Raw Dairy Products

(raw or unpasteurized milk or cheese and fresh soft cheeses)

  • Brie
  • Camembert
  • Blue cheese (roquefort, gorgonzola, stilton, etc.)
  • Feta
  • Mexican-style queso fresco

Raw or Undercooked Shellfish

  • Sushi
  • Clams
  • Oysters
  • Mussels
  • Scallops
  • Steamed seafood such as mussels and snails

Well Water

  • Memphis tap water is allowed as well as bottled water that reads “reverse osmosis.”

Raw or Rare Meat or Undercooked Poultry

  • All meat should be cooked well-done.

Ready to Eat Foods

  • Uncooked hot dogs
  • Fresh-sliced meats from deli counter
  • (all lunch meat must be heated to 165 degrees)
  • Other deli-style foods
  • Honey and unpasteurized maple syrup
  • Sprouts (such as bean sprouts and alfalfa sprouts)
  • Raw unroasted nuts
  • Dried fruits

Tea bags (approved pasteurized bottled tea is allowed)

Black Pepper

  • Only use black pepper packets found at St. Jude–they have been sterilized.

Avoid in Kay Kafe

  • Sushi bar
  • Roast beef from deli bar
  • Lettuce and vegetables on the salad bar that have started to brown

Patients on transplant service should avoid ice machines and fountain drink machines.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

ATENCIÓN: si habla español, tiene a su disposición servicios gratuitos de asistencia lingüística. Llame al 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

تنبيه: إذا كنت تتحدث باللغة العربية فيمكنك الاستعانة بخدمات المساعدة اللغوية المتوفرة لك مجانا. .يرجى الاتصال بالرقم. 5833-278-866-1  (الهاتف النصي: 1040-595-901-1).