Food safety has become a real concern for all of us, especially our senior loved ones.
Pathogens, including bacteria and viruses, can be present in the foods we choose and lead to foodborne illness.
Another term for foodborne illness is food poisoning, which can be even more dangerous for older adults.
Often aging in place seniors put themselves at risk through their food safety practices.
Prevalence of Foodborne Illness
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
48 million persons get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne infection and illness in the United States each year. Many of these people are children, older adults, or have weakened immune systems and may not be able to fight infection normally.
We learn almost daily about the latest food that has been recalled because of bacterial contamination.
People have become sick with food poisoning after eating ice cream, nuts, lettuce, spinach, restaurant food and even the food that is prepared in their own homes.
Seniors are at heightened risk from food contamination and foodborne illness.
Seniors At Risk
Many seniors have cooked their entire lives and know their way around the kitchen.
As we age our immune systems slow down, which can put us at risk for getting sick from contaminated foods. At times, multiple medications can also inhibit the immune system, leaving our senior loved ones at increased risk for food poisoning.
Older adults often slow down physically, tire easily and have poorer vision which can affect how their bodies handle food.
Seniors’ stomachs and intestinal tracts may hold on to foods longer than when they were younger, their liver and kidneys may not clear toxins from their bodies as effectively as in the past and their sense of taste or smell may be altered leading them to consume foods that are spoiled.
Seniors who get sick from contaminated foods can take longer to recover, get admitted to the hospital and many even die from foodborne illnesses.
Tips to Prevent Food Poisoning At Home
Sometimes improper food handling can lead to foodborne illness.
There are a few areas about which seniors and the people who prepare their meals should become more aware so we all can keep food safe and prevent foodborne illness from getting the best of our senior loved ones.
- Wash hands before, during and after food preparation
- Read expiration dates on perishable and non perishable foods and throw away any foods that have passed their fresh date
- Don’t buy foods that are past their sell-by date or are expired; read the labels before buying
- Never cut fresh foods on the same cutting board used for meats or poultry
- Cook foods in the microwave until they reach the correct temperature to ensure all bacteria is killed
- Store leftovers promptly and reheat thoroughly to the correct temperature (165 degrees) to prevent microorganisms from flourishing
- Check the refrigerator with a thermometer to be sure it is set at the proper temperature to keep foods safe (40 degrees or lower)
- Wash fruits and vegetables, even if the skins are not going to be eaten
- Clean kitchen surfaces with hot water and soap
- Don’t thaw foods on the counter; safely thaw foods in the refrigerator or microwave and cook immediately
- Don’t use food in cans that are dented or bulging
- Bring food home from the grocery store promptly and refrigerate within 2 hours; if delayed, pack perishables in ice cooler during transport home
Seniors should avoid:
- raw milk
- unpasteurized milk and juice
- raw meat, poultry, seafood and fish
- under-cooked eggs
- raw sprouts
- soft cheeses made from raw, unpasteurized milk
Don’t Take Chances
Don’t depend on the smell or color of a food to determine if it is free from contamination. Sometimes it can’t be seen.
If your senior loved one becomes ill, contact their physician immediately.
Symptoms of food borne illness include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever.
Remember the old standby – – if in doubt, throw it out!
Keeping yourself and your loved ones safe in the kitchen is in your hands.