If you watch the evening news, you’ve no doubt heard stories about foodborne illnesses. It might be a national restaurant chain that temporarily closes its doors due to an outbreak of a foodborne illness. Or a regional ice cream manufacturer whose production facilities were linked to food poisoning. For consumers of all ages, it is troubling. But for our seniors, these types of illnesses can be especially dangerous.
Older adults often live with health conditions and chronic illnesses that cause their immune systems to be weaker. This makes it more difficult for them to fight off ingested forms of bacteria.
In honor of National Food Safety Education Month, Griswold is sharing important information on food safety procedures and safe food handling activities. We hope this focus on food safety will help protect older adults across the country.
What is a Foodborne Illness?
Let’s begin by talking a little bit about what a foodborne illness is. While some people might be familiar with the term, most are more familiar with the phrase “food poisoning.” These are essentially illnesses that are caused by the food you eat. A common example might be meat that wasn’t properly stored and was cross contaminated. Or it might be a prepared or perishable food that was left out in the heat too long allowing bacteria to grow.
Foods that may put seniors at higher risk for food poisoning often include:
- Meal and poultry
- Sauces and condiments, especially mayonnaise
Common Symptoms of Food Poisoning
Sometimes the symptoms are minor and pass quickly. The senior might just think they had a mild case of the flu. This is especially true for healthy adults with strong immune systems. But there are times when food poisoning can lead to a very serious illness or even death.
Common symptoms of a foodborne illness include:
- Stomach ache
- Abdominal cramps
The good news is that foodborne illnesses are largely preventable with safe food handling practices.
Food Safety Procedures for Older Adults
During National Food Safety Month, it’s a good idea for you and the older adults in your life to learn more about food safety and how to adopt safe food practices.
Here are some suggestions you might find useful:
- Invest in a food thermometer: The USDA has guidelines on what internal temperature a variety of foods should be cooked to. By investing in a food thermometer and following those guidelines, you can help lower your risk for illness.
- Thaw food in the refrigerator: Many seniors grew up thawing meat at room temperature on the kitchen counter. Experts say this should be avoided. A safer alternative is to thaw food in the refrigerator.
- Keep it clean: Be sure to keep counters, utensils and other cooking equipment clean. Use hot, soapy water and a clean cloth. Avoid using sponges that harbor bacteria. And don’t forget to wash your hands frequently when you are cooking food!
- Don’t leave food out: A rule of thumb is to avoid keeping perishable foods out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. On hot, humid days even two hours can be too much. Use coolers stocked with ice if you will be eating outdoors or at a picnic.
If You Suspect a Foodborne Illness is Affecting a Senior Loved One
If an older adult in your life is exhibiting what might be signs of a foodborne illness, seek medical intervention immediately. Call their primary care physician or take them to the emergency room. Prompt medical treatment might help prevent a mild case of food poisoning from becoming a life-threatening one.
If your loved one’s physician does determine that it was a case of food poisoning that made them sick, they will likely try to determine the food that caused it.
In the event that a restaurant meal or grocery store product is suspected, the health care provider will likely file a claim with the local health department or the Food & Drug Administration. This can help others avoid becoming a victim.
Do you have any tips that can help ward off foodborne illness for seniors? What are some of your tips and best practices for proper food preparation for better food safety? Let us know in the comments below!