Low-Bacteria Diet for a Compromised Immune System

Well done steak is safe to eat on a low bacteria diet.
Well done steak is safe to eat on a low bacteria diet. istetiana / Getty Images

A low-bacteria diet is designed to reduce your exposure to bacteria and other pathogens that can make you sick. It's often prescribed for people who are at a greater risk of infection because they're currently not making enough white blood cells due to certain illnesses or medical treatments. Research isn't clear on how beneficial the low bacteria diet really is, but your health care provider might suggest you follow the diet as an extra precaution.

The keys to a low-bacteria diet are choosing foods that are less likely to carry bacteria while avoiding the foods that do. Frequent hand washing and paying particular attention to food safety practices are also essential.

Foods to Avoid

Stay away from raw and undercooked meats and eggs. Don't drink unpasteurized (or raw) milk or any uncooked foods made with raw milk. Avoid most cheese, except for pre-packaged cheese made from pasteurized milk. Undercooked tofu can also be a problem, and avoid miso and tempeh. Don't eat any foods that contain raw nuts, raw sprouts, or raw honey, and don't eat home-canned goods. Your nutritionist or dietitian may have additional foods to add to this list.

Low-Bacteria Foods You Can Eat

Fresh fruits and vegetables are fine as long as you wash them first, or cook them thoroughly. Meat, fish, and eggs should also be fully cooked. Commercially prepared and packaged foods are acceptable but avoid buying foods in dented and swollen cans or damaged packaging.

Bread, ready-to-eat cereals, pancakes, waffles, and crackers are safe to eat. Bottled beverages, hot beverages and pasteurized fruit and vegetable juices are good as well. Cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, margarine, commercial peanut butter and chocolate are okay, too.

Additional Food Safety Tips

Whoever owns the hands that are preparing your food must wash them and good food safety procedures need to be followed in the kitchen.

All raw foods must be kept away from foods that are ready to be served and no sampling the food with cooking spoons that will go back into the foods. Also, it's best not to share dishes, cups, glassware, and flatware. Hot foods must be kept hot until they're eaten and any leftovers should be promptly refrigerated. Also, make sure you thoroughly heat the leftovers before you eat them.

When you need to follow a low-bacteria at a restaurant, be sure to wash your hands after handling menus (bring hand sanitizer so you can avoid the restroom). Order fully-cooked foods (not rare or medium meats) and have them served at your table; avoid the salad bar, serve-yourself soda fountains, the dinner buffet and ice cream machines. Don't touch the mustard, pepper sauce and ketchup bottles, or the salt and pepper shakers. Use individual packets when they're available or ask for fresh bottles.

Sources:

Mank AP, Davies M. "Examining low bacterial dietary practice: a survey on low bacterial food." Eur J Oncol Nurs. 2008 Sep;12(4):342-8.

New York University Langone Medical Center. "Low-Bacteria Diet."

van Dalen EC, Mank A, Leclercq E, Mulder RL, Davies M, Kersten MJ, van de Wetering MD. "Low bacterial diet versus control diet to prevent infection in cancer patients treated with chemotherapy causing episodes of neutropenia." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Sep 12;9:CD006247.

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