One important way to protect yourself after a liver transplant involves making safe food choices and practicing safe food-handling rules. The medications you must take after transplantation suppress your immune system to prevent your body from rejecting your new liver. Suppressing your immune system also increases your risk of infection.
Patients who have had transplants experience weakened immune systems and need to protect themselves from all infections. Foodborne illnesses, sometimes called food poisoning, can be caused by raw or undercooked foods and are a real threat to transplant recipients. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that every year as many as 76 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses. Those at highest risk for those illnesses are the very young, the very old and those who have weakened immune systems.
Foods to avoid after transplant include:
- Raw seafood like clams, oysters, sushi and ceviche
- Raw, rare or undercooked meat, poultry and fish
- Raw or undercooked eggs
- Foods containing raw eggs like cookie dough or homemade eggnog
- Unpasteurized milk and unpasteurized cheese
- Unpasteurized cider
- Bean and alfalfa sprouts
It is also important that you, and anyone who cooks for you, handle food safely. The following suggestions can help protect you from foodborne illnesses. Some of these ideas may seem simple, but it is easy to overlook these important steps.
- Be clean. Always wash your hands with hot soapy water before beginning any food preparation. Keep the food preparation area and all utensils used during preparation clean. Replace sponges regularly. Wash dishcloths often. Consider using disposable paper towels. Wash all fruits and vegetables carefully.
- Keep things separated. Protect yourself from cross contamination. Cross contamination can occur in your grocery cart when you place a package of meat that is leaking juices on top of other foods. It can also occur in the refrigerator if the juice from thawed meat drips onto other foods. Purchase multiple cutting boards and use one just for meat, another just for vegetables and one for bread. Clean the cutting boards thoroughly after every use. Any dish that has held uncooked food should be washed before using it for the cooked product.
- Cook as directed. Always cook foods to the recommended temperatures. A food thermometer helps insure you meet this goal. Suggested temperatures:
Steaks, roasts and fish; 145 degrees F
Pork, ground beef and egg dishes; 160 degrees F
Chicken and poultry; 165 degrees F.
- Chill. When food shopping, especially during hot weather, return home promptly and refrigerate perishables. Refrigerate leftovers quickly after a meal. Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator, not on the counter. You may want to avoid salad bars and buffets when eating out as those foods may be held at room temperature for an extended length of time.
- Always check the label of perishable foods for the “Sell-By” date. Do not use foods after the date listed.
- Some basic rules: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold; and when in doubt, throw it out.
Additional information about food safety can be found on the CDC website.
Author: Carol Bergen, MS, RD, CSR, LDN, Clinical Dietitian Specialist