Food safety for older adults

Senior citizens and foodborne illnesses.

As adults age they can become more vulnerable to food poisoning. With age, the stomach produces less acid to control bacteria while the kidneys are less effective at filtering the bacteria from the blood. Furthermore, the medications given for certain chronic diagnoses may further weaken the immune system. Once contracted, infections from foodborne illnesses (FBI) may be harder to treat and may reoccur.

Michigan State University Extension recommends that in a safe kitchen:

  • All hands are washed before, during and after preparation.
  • Separate cutting knives are assigned to either meats or vegetables, and after each use are washed in hot, soapy water.
  • Raw foods are kept separate from ready-to-eat items.
  • The correct procedure for thawing frozen meats is either putting it in the refrigerator, running under cold water or heating in the microwave if cooking immediately after.
  • All foods must be cooked to the proper internal temperature. This is measured with a food thermometer and differs from food to food. For example, fish must be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, and chicken to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • The refrigerator should be kept lower than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

When grocery shopping, you should pick up perishable foods last, regardless of their location in the store. If the temperature outside is greater than 90 degrees Fahrenheit, then the food should be refrigerated within an hour. It may even be a good idea to have a cooler in your car to transport these fresh foods home. Even if it is a cold day outside, there should be no stops between the grocery store and home; all perishable food must be refrigerated immediately.

Certain foods should be avoided altogether because they are considered high-risk. These include raw, rare or undercooked meats and poultry, as well as raw fish, including sushi. Also, unpasteurized dairy products, raw or undercooked eggs, raw sprouts and unpasteurized fruit and vegetable juices should be avoided. It is easy to avoid these items when the person who will be consuming the food is also responsible for purchasing and preparing the meals. However, when eating out, it is important to ask the server questions regarding the preparation of these specific items. All leftovers taken home after the meal must be refrigerated within two hours after purchase or delivery.

Adults who believe they may have a foodborne illness should seek appropriate medical action. It is important to save any food or packaging materials thought to be responsible for the incidence. If the food was believed to be from a restaurant or food establishment, the local health department should be contacted.

If you would like more information on food safety for seniors, please call your local MSU Extension office or 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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