According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults (those 65 and over) are 10 times more likely to suffer from a foodborne illness than younger generations. When it comes to preparing food or cooking for the elderly, great care must be undertaken to ensure that food has been handled properly, and that the food itself is safe. Here are several food safety tips for seniors who live independently and their caregivers to help prevent the spread of foodborne illness.
Risks Associated with Food Safety for Seniors
It’s important to understand why food safety for seniors is so important. As we age, our body changes, including our gastrointestinal tract. In those over age 65, food remains in the gastrointestinal tract for a longer period of time, allowing bacteria to grow. This type of bacteria isn’t always harmful—but the length of time it stays in the GI tract causes an increased risk of food poisoning in the elderly. Also, the stomach of an older person may not produce enough bile (acid), which allows bacteria to grow and multiply. Those who suffer from conditions such as diabetes and cancer are at increased risk.
Safe food handling for seniors is a must because each additional risk will multiply the already existing risks of simply getting older. Whether you’re an older person preparing your own food, or you’re a caregiver in a home or a certified nursing home, food safety for the elderly is a priority.
Cooking Safety Tips for Seniors and Their Caregivers
It’s something we’ve been told from toddlerhood—wash your hands. Even in modern times, the best advice when it comes to food safety for seniors is to wash hands consistently, especially after handling raw meat.
Another great tip is to separate raw meats and poultry from ready-to-eat foods. People may wonder how so many units of romaine lettuce were recalled due to disease—this is because this “tip” was not followed correctly. Use separate cutting boards for meat, poultry, and vegetables/fruits, and prepare them on different surfaces.
When cooking for the elderly, be absolutely sure that meats are cooked to their proper temperature. Chicken should always have an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit or above, while red meat should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The advisories for pork state an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit is best.
Food safety for the elderly also includes proper refrigeration. Leftovers should be refrigerated promptly within two hours of cooking time. Also, it’s advised that older adults keep their refrigerator temperatures at 40 degrees to keep food cold and fresh. This also applies to refrigerators in nursing homes or care facilities.
Perhaps the best tip of all for food safety for seniors: “when in doubt, throw it out!”
Food Safety for Seniors – Known Pathogens
While the best method of preventing food poisoning in seniors is prevention, it’s still a good idea to be aware of the risks that are out there. Some of these pathogens include:
- Listeria: This pathogen often grows on deli-style meats and hot dogs, improperly cooked or stored in the refrigerator. It can also affect raw vegetables. While in many it causes fever, malaise, and GI upset, if untreated in seniors, it could be deadly.
- Escherichia coli: Commonly known as E. coli, this is highly correlated with uncooked ground beef. It can also be transmitted through person-to-person contact (e.g., unwashed hands).
- Salmonella: This affects food safety for seniors, as it is very much associated with chicken. Salmonella can also be present in milk, seafood, and other poultry. It can cause stomach pain and diarrhea, and is a very serious condition for the elderly.
- Clostridium: This pathogen is most associated with food left out on the counter, which is part of why safe food handling for seniors is so vital. While it rarely causes death, it can cause serious GI upset and cramps.
Remembering every last piece of advice can be tough for anyone. However, when it comes to food safety for seniors, the most important things to do are to wash your hands, separate meats and poultry, throw suspicious food away, and refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible.
Helping make life easier for seniors, the disabled, and their caregivers is what the Williams Lift Co. has been doing for over 70 years. For a free estimate for wheelchair or stair ramp costs, or to hear about our other mobility products, contact us today to speak with a member of our professional staff.
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