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Keep Your Seniors Safe from Food-Borne Illness

by Lindsey Sexton - October 5, 2020

Adults age 65 and older are at a higher risk for hospitalization and death from foodborne illness. This increased risk of food poisoning is because our organs and body systems go through changes as people age:

  • The gastrointestinal tract holds onto food for a longer period of time, allowing bacteria to grow.
  • The liver and kidneys may not properly rid the body of foreign bacteria and toxins.
  • The stomach may not produce enough acid. The acidity helps to reduce the number of bacteria in our intestinal tract.
  • Underlying chronic conditions, such as diabetes and cancer, may also increase a person’s risk of foodborne illness.


Foods to avoid serving the older adults in your life

The Food and Drug Administration recommends individuals over the age of 65 avoid the following foods to reduce the risk of food poisoning:

  • Raw fish
  • Raw shellfish, such as oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops
  • Raw meat or poultry
  • Raw or unpasteurized milk or cheese
  • Soft, unpasteurized cheeses such as feta, brie, blue or others
  • Raw or lightly cooked eggs or egg products, such as salad dressings, cookie dough, cake batter, sauces, and drinks such as eggnog
  • Raw sprouts
  • Unpasteurized or untreated juice from fruits and veggies

In the U.S., almost all juice is treated to kill germs. This makes it safe to drink. The FDA requires a warning label on all juices that have not been treated.


Are you food safety savvy?

In the past, you may have accidentally been contributing to the risk of foodborne illness without knowing it by improperly handling foods. Some food preparation techniques taught over the years are actually unsafe. Common unsafe food-handling practices include:

  • Thawing food on the kitchen counter.
  • Letting food cool on the counter before refrigerating.
  • Keeping food at room temperature for longer than 2 hours.
  • Not washing hands adequately before handling food or between handling different kinds of food.
  • Refrigerating leftovers in large containers.


Tips for keeping food safe for your senior

CLEAN Always wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. Make sure your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops are cleaned with hot soapy water between preparing one for and the next. Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels, change them out frequently, then wash them in the hot cycle of your washing machine. And make certain to have a separate hand drying towel on hand. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Rub firm-skin fruits and vegetables under running tap water or scrub with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing with running tap water.

SEPARATE Cross-contamination is how bacteria can spread. In the store and at home, separate raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from other foods in your grocery shopping cart, grocery bags, and in your refrigerator. Keep these raw foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods. Always start with a clean scene— wash hands with warm water and soap. Wash cutting boards, dishes, countertops and utensils with hot soapy water between each use. And use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry and seafood. Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs.

COOK Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause illness. Use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods. Make sure that meat, poultry, egg dishes, casseroles and other foods are cooked to the right internal temperature. Color is not a reliable indicator of doneness. Bring sauces, soups and gravy to a boil when reheating. Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. Only use recipes in which eggs are cooked or heated thoroughly. When cooking in a microwave oven, cover food, stir and rotate for even cooking. Food is done when it reaches the correct internal temperature.

CHILL Refrigerate foods as soon as you get them home from the store because cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Do not over-stuff the refrigerator. Cold air must circulate to help keep food safe. Keeping a constant refrigerator temperature of 40ºF or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Use an appliance thermometer to be sure the temperature is consistently 40ºF or below. The freezer temperature should be 0ºF or below. Never let raw meat, poultry, eggs, cooked food or cut fresh fruits or vegetables sit at room temperature more than 2 hours (1 hour when the temperature is above 90ºF). Never defrost food at room temperature. Food must be thawed in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately. Use or discard refrigerated food on a regular basis. Check USDA cold storage information for optimum storage times.