Assessment of Food Safety Knowledge and Behaviors of Cancer Patients Receiving Treatment

Holly Paden
Graduate (PhD)
Sanja Ilic (OSU Nutrition Program)

Purpose: The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be more than 1.8 million new cancer cases in 2020, with over 600,000 resulting deaths.  There are more than 14 million Americans who are diagnosed with cancer and so are at a greater risk of foodborne infection, due to their immunocompromised state. However, the food safety practices, behaviors, and knowledge of cancer patients have not been well studied.  This study aims to determine the food safety knowledge, behaviors, and attitudes currently held by cancer patients seeking treatment, as well as to determine sociodemographic factors which affect patient food safety risk.
Research Methods: This was a cross-sectional study that recruited participants from three Midwestern, metropolitan hospitals. A 173-item questionnaire was administered to assess patient sociodemographic factors, food security, food safety knowledge, behaviors, attitudes, risk perception, and acquisition practices. Data were analyzed in SPSS.
Findings: Of the 288 participants, most patients (76.4%) believed that foodborne disease is a serious problem; however, approximately half (49.4%) were not aware that cancer diagnosis and receipt of treatment increased their risk of foodborne infection.  There was a lack of concern over properly thawing perishable food (48.8%) and using meat thermometers (47.0%).  More than half of patients consumed high risk foods, particularly restaurant salad bar items (69.1%) and cold deli meats (88.4%).  Many patients performed high risk food acquisition practices, such as removing spoiled parts of fruits and vegetables before consumption (46.3%) or cooking with other people (84.9%).  The average participant was only able to answer 74.77%±12.24% of the knowledge questions correctly. Participant understanding of appropriate food storage procedures was the lowest, with an average score of 69.53%±17.47%.  Lastly, patients who indicated low food security also reported that they participated in more unsafe food acquisition behaviors (P 0.05).
Implications: These findings can be used in collaboration with the data collected by the Evans research group, in Cardiff, Wales, to develop specific and effective food safety education programs for cancer patients.  This quantitative and qualitative data will be used to develop a specific, 15-minute digital food safety education module for cancer patients.