Food poisoning after transplant
I am a big fan of meat and fish. Soon I’ll be waiting for a transplant, and while doing some research I learned that the transplantee must avoid certain foods, including sushi, deli meats, and even certain cheeses. Why is this?
When the immune system is weakened, as will be the case following the transplant, with the taking of immunosuppressive drugs, the body isn’t as efficient at defending against infections. The risk of food poisoning is thus higher. Also known as foodborne illness, food poisoning is an infection of the digestive system. It occurs when one consumes food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, or the toxic products they secrete. This is an infection that can be dangerous and that may cause long-term medical complications, and sometimes even death. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and cramps, diarrhoea, fever, or chills.
The best way to avoid this type of infection is prevention.
In addition to the health and safety measures in handling and storing food, some foods may have a higher risk for immunosuppressed people by the way they are produced and stored. Food poisoning risk can be reduced by avoiding certain types of food.
Thus, when raw or undercooked, some foods – including meat, poultry, fish, seafood, and eggs – can be risky. Steps to take are to ensure foods are cooked up to a safe temperature. The heat deployed by cooking will ensure the destruction of microorganisms. Sushi lovers may opt for sushi made with cooked fish or seafood, or vegetarian sushi, while ensuring that they have been prepared with care to prevent any risk of cross-contamination with raw fish.
As for processed meats, including deli meats, liverwurst (pâtés), and refrigerated meat spreads (including cretons), though cooked in the process of preparing, their handling and their nature (moisture, acidity) increase the risk of contamination and growth of micro-organisms. If you still desire to consume deli meats, it will be advisable to warm them at a high temperature until they are steaming. Liverwurst (pâtés) and meat spreads sold in cans or for refrigeration after opening only, are considered safer.
Likewise, raw milk cheese (made with unpasteurized milk), soft, semi-soft, and veined (blue) cheese, are also considered foods at risk for immunocompromised individuals. The risk will be lower if these cheeses are integrated in recipes where sufficient heat is deployed (gratin, cheese fondue, raclette, baked brie). Otherwise, it is recommended to opt for cheeses made with pasteurized milk and hard cheese.
Valerie Jomphe DtP, MSc, CNSC
Nutritionist of the lung transplant program at the CHUM