Food for people with low immunity
If you have low immunity, you may be more at risk of getting sick from food poisoning than other people. Find out which foods to avoid to help protect yourself from illness, and make sure the food you eat is safe for you.
What is low immunity?
Your immune system fights harmful bugs that can make you sick. Having low immunity means your immune system is not as strong as it should be. So you have to be more careful what you eat.
Low immunity can be caused by:
- having an illness like cancer or HIV/AIDS
- having an autoimmune disease such as inflammatory bowel disease, type 1 diabetes, or multiple sclerosis
- taking certain medications, including immunosuppressive drugs
- being an older person with an ongoing (chronic) illness
- being pregnant.
If you are unsure if you have low immunity or have questions, ask your doctor or other healthcare professional.
If you have low immunity, know what is safe to eat
Our food safety guide for people with low immunity includes information on safe and risky foods. It gives advice on buying, preparing, and storing foods.
Guide to food safety when you have low immunity [PDF, 2.7 MB]
Remember, talk to your doctor or dietitian if you have an illness or medical condition that requires food restrictions. Follow the advice they give you.
Our pullout guide has a full list of foods that are safe and tells you how to prepare at-risk foods.
Pullout guide to food safety with low immunity [PDF, 719 KB]
If you are pregnant or looking after a young child, we have specific advice to help keep you or your baby safe.
How to avoid food poisoning
Food may sometimes be contaminated by toxins or bugs like bacteria, parasites, or viruses. If food is handled incorrectly, you may get sick.
Food poisoning symptoms include stomach pains, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea.
You can minimise your risk of catching a foodborne illness by:
- knowing which foods are high risk, and avoiding them
- selecting safer foods
- following food safety guidelines when preparing and storing food.
Foods that may pose a risk
Some types of foods may pose a greater risk than others. They need to be carefully prepared or avoided.
Most dairy products in New Zealand are pasteurised. Pasteurisation is a heat treatment that kills bugs in raw products. But these products can still become contaminated once opened.
Dairy foods that should be avoided when you have low immunity include:
- raw/unpasteurised products
- soft cheeses (unless cooked or eaten right after opening after being stored in the fridge)
- commercially prepared and unpackaged smoothies or shakes
- soft-serve ice cream.
Find out more
Vegetables, salads, and fruits
Wash and dry fresh fruits and vegetables before you eat them. Especially if you are eating them raw.
Fruits and vegetables that are difficult to clean thoroughly, such as sprouts and some herbs, should be avoided.
Meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs
Video – New Zealand Chef Martin Bosley shares some practical food safety tips on cooking eggs at home (1.06)
Chef Martin Bosley cooks eggs safely.
[Close up of Martin pulling out a cracked egg from the carton and throwing it in the bin.]
Martin: “Check eggs for cracks or dirt. Throw away any cracked eggs.”
[Close up of Martin at the sink, putting on soap and washing his hands. Text on the screen says to wash for 20 seconds.]
Martin: “Always wash your hands with soap and water after handling raw eggs.”
[Close up of the refrigerator door opening, and Martin placing the egg carton inside the fridge.]
Martin: “Store eggs as soon as you get home in a closed container in the fridge. It can be the same box in which they came.”
[Music plays. Martin stands at the stove with a pan of hot water on the element. He adds vinegar to the pan. He cracks an egg into a ramekin, then gently adds the egg into the hot water in the pan. He stirs, then sets a timer on his phone for 6 minutes. Martin uses a utensil to take out the cooked eggs and put them onto a plate on the counter. He cuts into them to show the firm yolk.]
Martin: “Cook eggs thoroughly until the whites are firm and the yolk thickens.”
[Close up of Martin wiping the counter with a cloth. Then Martin washes his hands again. Text on the screen says to wash for 20 seconds. The New Zealand Food Safety logo displays at the bottom of the screen.]
Martin: “Keep kitchen surfaces and utensils clean after handling raw eggs. And remember to wash your hands.”
[End of transcript]
Video – New Zealand Chef Martin Bosley shares some practical food safety tips on cooking chicken at home (1.12)
[Chef Martin Bosley smiling with his kitchen in background. Fun, vibrant music in background]
[Title of video ‘Food Safety Tips with Chef Martin Bosley’ appears]
[Subject ‘Chicken’ appears]
Martin gives a head nod to the audience, blue reusable shopping bag on his kitchen counter in front of him. Martin removes a pack of raw chicken thighs from the blue reusable shopping bag.
Martin: Keep raw chicken covered, separate from other food in the bottom shelf in the fridge and this will keep the juices from leaking and dripping onto other foods.
Martin demonstrates by placing the raw chicken pack on a plate and placing it onto the bottom shelf of his refrigerator.
Image of Martin’s sink with the unwrapped pack of raw chicken on the counter next to it.
Martin: PLEASE…don’t wash the chicken before cooking. Washing will splash the germs all around the kitchen.
Martin cuts the chicken legs into thighs and drumsticks.
Martin: Ideally, use separate chopping boards for raw chicken. If you only have one, mark sure you wash it with soap and hot water after you’ve used it.
Martin washes wooden chopping board in sink with detergent.
Martin: Wash your hands with soap and water after handling raw chicken. 20 seconds of lathering and 20 seconds of rinsing.
Martin washes his hands with soap and running water.
Martin: Keep kitchen utensils and surfaces clean after handling raw chicken.
Martin wipes down soapy kitchen counters with paper towels.
Martin cooks chicken thighs and drumsticks in cast iron skillet. The chicken is browned and sizzling in the pan.
Martin: Check to see if the chicken is thoroughly cooked. Now if you have a meat thermometer you can take the temperature at middle of the thickest part of the meat.
The thermometer should read about 75 degrees Celsius.
Martin takes the chicken in the cast iron pan out of the oven and places on the stove. He takes a thigh out of the pan and places onto a clean, wooden chopping board.
He grabs a thermometer and shows the audience. He places it back onto the counter and then cuts into the chicken thigh to show clear juices running out of the chicken thigh meat.
Martin: If you don’t have a thermometer, then the juices should run clear when poked with a knife.
Image of Martin smiling at audience.
[End title: Food safety tips with Chef Martin Bosley]
[End of transcript]
If you have low immunity, you should not eat:
- raw or undercooked meat, including poultry, fish or shellfish
- raw or undercooked eggs
- foods containing raw eggs (such as home-made mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce, Caesar dressing, some desserts)
- cold meats, pâté, or cold-smoked fish.
Meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs should only be eaten if cooked until piping hot (over 70°C).
Frequently asked questions [PDF, 134 KB]
Non-commercial foods include meat from animals that you might hunt and kill yourself. They are sometimes called "wild foods" (food you hunt, gather, and catch). Or it might be an animal killed and prepared for eating on a farm or private property.
These types of foods are not prepared with the same safety rules that apply to commercial foods.
Make sure these foods come from a safe environment and were handled correctly before eating them.
Food from restaurants and takeaways
When you eat out or buy takeaways, avoid the same high-risk foods we've already mentioned. To minimise risk, choose restaurant and takeaway food that is:
- well-cooked and prepared just before it's served to you
- served piping hot.
You should also avoid:
- food from buffets, smorgasbords, salad bars, or street vendors
- house-made sauces and dressings that contain raw eggs
- foods that contain undercooked eggs
- pre-prepared cold foods such as salads, unrefrigerated sandwiches, or sushi.
Food you eat overseas
If you're travelling overseas, take extra care. Some countries have very high rates of food poisoning. Water supplies may also be unsafe.
Remember that even adding ice to your drink could be risky.
Buy, handle, and store foods safely
Besides choosing safer foods, if you have low immunity you need to make sure you buy, store, and prepare foods safely to avoid getting sick.
Who to contact
If you have questions about food for people with low immunity, email email@example.com