December 3, 2023

Food Safety for Older Adults

The FDA has released information about food safety for older adults. Anyone who is over the age of 65 needs to be very vigilant about food safety. Many of those who become seriously ill and even die from food poisoning are elderly.

Older woman

The bodies of older adults do not work as well as they did decades ago. The stomach and intestinal tract hold onto food for longer periods of time, the senses of smell and taste are altered, and the liver and kidneys don’t work as well to get rid of toxins. And by the age of 65, many people have been diagnosed with a serious illness. That is a double whammy, since people with chronic health problems are also at higher risk for serious complications from food poisoning.

After the age of 75, many people also have reduced immune system responses. That means that body doesn’t recognize and get rid of pathogens such as bacteria that cause food poisoning. Older adults are more likely to be sick longer when they contract food poisoning and need to be hospitalized.

The major pathogens that cause food illness include Campylobacter, Clostridium perfringens, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli, Cryptosporidium, Norovirus, Toxoplasma gondii, and Vibrio vulnificus. Most of these pathogens are associated with undercooked food such as undercooked eggs, chicken, ground meat, or seafood, and with high risk foods such as unpasteurized milk and juice, and raw sprouts.

When you eat at home, think about cooking fruits and vegetables before you eat them. These products can be contaminated in the field, during harvest, during transport, or during storage. Many outbreaks have been linked to produce, especially leafy green vegetables. Some animal products, such as raw fish, raw shellfish, raw milk, raw milk cheese, luncheon meats, and deli-type salads can be contaminated. Avoid those types of foods. And if you aren’t sure if a food is safe or not, throw it out. Cook meat and poultry to safe internal temperatures. Always cook eggs to well done. Avoid raw sprouts or cook them, and always wash vegetables and fruits well under cool running water, even before they are peeled.

Follow the steps of Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill to keep food safe. Wash your hands before preparing food, and wash the food. Keep raw meats and poultry away from uncooked fruits and vegetables. Cook food to safe internal temperatures and always test that temperature with a food thermometer. And chill leftovers quickly.

When you shop, keep raw meats and poultry separate from fruit and vegetables. Buy only pasteurized dairy products. Make sure that eggs are clean and uncracked, and think about purchasing pasteurized eggs. Buy produce with the expiration date furthest in the future, and make sure fruits and veggies aren’t bruised or damaged. Check the “sell by” date. Only buy cut up fruits and vegetables that are refrigerated or on ice. Buy perishable foods last, and go straight home, or have a cooler in the car.

When you eat out, always ask the waiter or waitress questions if you have a food allergy. Make sure that your food is cooked to the doneness you requested. Ask if the food contains uncooked eggs, sprouts, meat, poultry, or seafood. If you want to take leftovers home, go home immediately and refrigerate the food.

Finally, know the symptoms of food poisoning and see your doctor right away if you experience them. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea that is watery and/or bloody, a fever, and abdominal cramps are signs of a problem. When in doubt, contact your doctor. Preserve the food in question, and save all packaging materials. If you are diagnosed with a foodborne illness, your doctor should contact local health authorities in case there is an outbreak.



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