September is National Food Safety Education Month. We have an expert who will share how to keep family caregivers and your loved ones safe from food poisoning (and everyone who wants to avoid becoming the victim of food borne illness).
Detective Foodsafe™ explores the mysteries of food contamination and food handling mishaps that can happen when you least expect it. Her mission is to keep everyone safe from the dangers of foodborne illness.
Detective Foodsafe will help family caregivers not only ensure that seniors are eating right, but also avoid becoming victims of food poisoning (foodborne illness).
We are all concerned about eating foods that are healthy and provide nourishment for our bodies. As we age, we definitely want to eat foods that will keep us well and manage our chronic medical conditions.
Seniors are already at increased risk from contracting foodborne illness due to suppressed immune systems, medications and chronic diseases. How their food is handled can add to the danger.
Why Are Seniors at Risk?
It is important to understand the full effect of foodborne illness on our senior population so family caregivers know how vital it is to prevent it.
For younger adults, they may suffer a gastrointestinal illness (albeit a terrible experience), but for older adults, hospitalization and even death could be the outcome when they contract food poisoning. Seniors are more susceptible to complications resulting from foodborne illness.
When seniors eat foods that may contain harmful bacteria, it takes their gastrointestinal system longer to expel it. Excretion of food through the stomach and intestines takes longer as we age. This allows more time for harmful pathogens to infect seniors.
In addition to the timing of the GI tract, a seniors’ liver and kidneys may not be functioning as efficiently as in the past resulting in a reduced ability to clear the body of toxins which cause food poisoning.
Older adults’ bodies are more susceptible to the effects of microorganisms and have a more difficult time fighting illness. Because immune systems are also aging, they may be weakened therefore less able to mount a strong defense.
Seniors with multiple chronic diseases including diabetes, kidney and heart disease have more trouble responding to food pathogens.
Multiple medications, especially those designed to reduce stomach acid (which can reduce the amount of harmful bacteria in the GI tract), can make matters worse for seniors.
When seniors do contract foodborne illness, not only do they get sicker, they also take longer to recover than a younger person.
Even though food that is contaminated with harmful bacteria does not taste, smell or look different, seniors often have a decreased sense of taste and smell which can impact their ability to distinguish when a food may be spoiled and potentially unfit to eat.
Foods Seniors Should Avoid
“There are several foods that can make seniors ill and it is best to avoid them” says Detective Foodsafe.
Foods that are more prone to microorganism contamination are:
- Unwashed raw fruits and vegetables
- Soft cheese, made from unpasteurized milk like brie, Camembert, feta, queso fresco
- Raw or unpasteurized milk and juice
- Raw or under cooked meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs
- Luncheon meat and deli salads
- Unpasteurized pates and meat spreads
What Caregivers Can Do
Family caregivers can take action to prevent food poisoning occurring in their senior loved ones.
Detective Foodsafe recommends you do these things:
- Look in the kitchen pantry and refrigerator to see if there is any spoiled or expired food that needs to be tossed out every time you visit. Sometimes the print is too small for seniors to read and they don’t realize it is expired or that it is important to throw out foods that have passed the Use By date.
- Encourage frequent handwashing; launder kitchen cloths and towels in hot water regularly
- Monitor their ability to prepare foods safely. Can they wash all fruits and vegetables before eating or keep the equipment/surfaces disinfected? A functional decline in some seniors may mean that they aren’t physically able to handle food and meal preparation safely anymore.
- Purchase ergonomic kitchen gadgets that can make it easier to work in the kitchen to handle food safely. Vegetable brushes or knives that can be held onto with stiff fingers, foods within reach so that they aren’t left to spoil, magnifying glass to read labels for expiration dates and other products that might make working in the kitchen easier and safer.
- Encourage them to abandon lifelong habits of keeping butter and cheese (and other perishable foods) out on the counter.
- Be sure the microwave is working correctly heating thoroughly so that they can reheat leftovers and fully cook food to a safe internal temperature to kill bacteria. Do they have a food thermometer they can read easily to check for doneness? A digital thermometer may be easier to read than a dial version.
- Foods they bring home from restaurants in a doggy bag should be refrigerated promptly (within 2 hours) and heated thoroughly before eating.
- When using home delivered meals, be sure all food is stored promptly at the proper temperature so that it won’t reach the temperature danger zone where bacteria grows rapidly. Always reheat any delivered meals to 165 degrees F to be sure bacteria is destroyed.
- Check the functioning of the refrigerator and freezer to be sure they are chilling food to the proper temperature. Repair or replace any units that are not keeping food safe. Keep a thermometer inside both the refrigerator and freezer to be sure it is working properly.
Family caregivers can be Detective Foodsafe germ fighters helping reduce the likelihood that their seniors will become victims of foodborne illness.
You can check out more Detective Foodsafe tips and resources here.