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Food Safety Tips for Older Adults
Older adults have a greater risk of foodborne pathogens due to the natural aging process and other health-related concerns. It’s important for all populations, regardless of age, to maintain safe food practices for optimal health and wellbeing. Maintaining proper hygiene during food handling, reviewing expiration dates on product labels, storing foods at appropriate temperatures, and keeping current on foodborne outbreaks are all strategic steps in preventing illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “About 1 in 6 (or 48 million) people gets sick each year from contaminated food.” Fortunately through food safety practices related diseases and health concerns can be prevented.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) comprised a safety food guide for adults’ age 65 and older with valuable insights on reducing foodborne illnesses. According to the FDA the aging process brings changes, making individuals more susceptible to food poisoning. The FDA explains further stating, “For example, our stomach and intestinal tract may hold on to foods for a longer period of time; our liver and kidneys may not readily rid our bodies of toxins; and our sense of taste or smell may be altered.” Chronic health conditions and medications are also contributing factors placing elderly individuals at greater risk.
Pathogens found in food poisoning, and common symptoms:
1. Campylobacter: Found in unpasteurized milk and undercooked meats.
Symptoms: Fever, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and nausea. Symptoms may present 2-5 days after food was ingested.
2. Cryptosporidium: Found in water, soil, food, and in surfaces of contaminated objects.
Symptoms: Diarrhea, dehydration, weigh loss, and vomiting. Symptoms may appear 7-10 days after ingestion.
3. Clostridium perfringens: Results when foods are kept outside of the recommended temperature ranges.
Symptoms: Sudden diarrhea and abdominal cramps lasting for about 12-24 hrs. In elder populations symptoms may last for 1-2 weeks.
4. Listeria monocytogenes: Grows at a slow rate at refrigerated temperatures. Associated foods include salads, vegetables, and deli meats.
Symptoms: Fever, chills, and gastrointestinal disturbances. It may take weeks before symptoms appear. The FDA notes, “Those at-risk (including older adults and others with weakened immune systems) may later develop more serious illness; death can result from this bacteria.”
5. Escherichia coli (E. coli): Present in undercooked meets and beefs, raw fruits and vegetables, and water. E. coli can also be transmitted from infected individuals during contact.
Symptoms: Severe diarrhea (may present as bloody diarrhea), abdominal cramps, and vomiting. Symptoms develop within days and can last for up to 9 days.
For more information on foodborne pathogens and safe food handing, please review the FDA food safety guide for older adults.
Food Safety Tips:
1. Keep foods at recommended temperatures. Most product labels contain adequate temperature ranges for optimal food preservation.
2. Use a food thermometer when cooking meats and seafood.
3. Refrain from preparing foods if you have a communicable disease or feeling ill.
4. Report any changes in health or food poisoning to your doctor.
5. Check expiration dates on food labels before consuming foods or fluids.
6. Inspect foods for signs of spoilage, such as fowl smells, mushy or slimy texture, and changes from color.
7. Purchase pasteurized dairy products and juices.
8. Incorporate handwashing when preparing meals, prior to eating, and when exposed to contaminated surfaces.
9. Keep alert to foodborne outbreaks in your area.
10. Consult with your physician about food safety practices and health tips.
* All information shared in this article should be discussed with your healthcare practitioner prior to incorporating any suggestions. This article is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide advice or direct client decisions.