Food safety for seniors

The aging population is at an increased risk of food poisoning.

Being a senior citizen has its advantages – lower prices in restaurants, special deals online and in stores. But it also comes with things we just have to learn to live with – aches, pains and foods not tasting good. I was surprised to learn that taste buds wear out eventually, and with some medications adding to taste loss, it’s no wonder foods don’t taste the same as when we were younger. With this lessened ability to taste food, we may also not be able to tell if something has gone “bad,” although taste is never a good indicator if something is contaminated, as most bacteria cannot be seen or tasted.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 3,000 people die each year from foodborne illness. In order to keep foods from being contaminated, and to protect ourselves from foodborne illnesses, we need to make sure to follow some rules. Michigan State University Extension recommends:

  • Clean and sanitize counters, cutting boards and utensils. Bacteria can be transferred from the chicken we cut to the celery we chop when using the same board or the same knife, if not cleaned and sanitized between jobs. Better yet, we should use a different cutting board for raw meats than the one used for vegetables.
  • Wash hands between kitchen jobs to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Keep the refrigerator temperature below 41 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t have a refrigerator thermometer, buy one. They are inexpensive and some have large numbers that are easy to read. Your freezer should be below zero degree, so check that temperature as well to make sure your frozen foods stay safely frozen.
  • Thaw meat in the refrigerator, not on the counter. You can also place the wrapped item under cold running water in your sink to quicken the thaw. If you are using the item right away, you can also thaw with the defrost setting on your microwave as part of the cooking process. There are nights I will take a chicken breast out of the freezer, unwrap and cook it, having the cooking process do the thawing!
  • Take care of leftovers quickly. If allowed to sit out, they can reach the temperature danger zone for bacterial growth. Hot foods should be placed in containers and then labeled to either freeze or refrigerate within two hours. If you have a large batch of something, divide into smaller containers. When you get a doggie bag from a restaurant, put the food into a more durable container, label and follow the same rule to freeze or refrigerate.

By following a few rules, we can hopefully stay healthy by keeping food poisoning away. Don’t wait until you have a bout with foodborne illness; be proactive to keep yourself safe. If you would like more information about food safety for senior citizens, contact your local MSU Extension office or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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