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The Importance Of Senior Food Safety

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As we age, our body becomes more susceptible to the symptoms of foodborne diseases, such as those caused by harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites. These ailments are often amplified by underlying chronic conditions and weakened immune systems

After all, even the most trivial symptomatic issues caused by food poisoning could become life-threatening health problems for an older adult. Therefore, taking steps to reduce the risk of foodborne illness is imperative, especially when caring for an elder loved one. 

 

Why is Food Safety Important for Older Adults?

Food safety is something that everyone should practice, but for aging adults, it could mean the difference between life and death. 

Food safety for older adults is vital in reducing the chances of foodborne disease by implementing preventative measures. 

It's no secret that as we grow older, our body becomes less capable of warding off illnesses. This means that even minor afflictions can become serious health problems.

By taking precautions to help avoid the possibility of food poisoning, as well as nausea, vomiting, and dehydration that come with it, you are ensuring a better future for you and your loved one.

4 Basic Food Safety Rules According to the FDA

There are four distinct rules in basic food safety. These rules are familiar to those in the food service industry, but elsewhere they remain little-known.

The four basic food safety rules include:

1. Proper Hygiene 

Washing your hands with soapy water is the best way to prevent the spread of pathogens; a fact supported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). To promote safe food handling, you must wash your hands each time they come in contact with raw meat, undercooked meat, or undercooked eggs.

However, you should never wash raw meat products because they could cause splashing, sending bacteria-ridden water all over the kitchen.

2. Keep Raw Meat Separate

Regardless of whether you’re shopping, marinating, or prepping, cross-contamination is preventable.

Cross-contamination occurs when raw meat or eggs come in contact with any other type of food. When shopping at the grocery store, place raw meat and raw sprouts in separate bags so they won't touch the cooked foods or fresh fruits.

3. Cook Until Hot

When raw foods are not cooked at the proper temperature, they can put you at an increased risk of foodborne illness. In short, hot food is safe food.

If you are unsure about the internal temperature of a food item, use a food thermometer to verify the temperature. You can find internal cooking temperature information and diagrams at foodsafety.gov.

4. Immediately Chill

After food preparation is complete, leftovers must be placed in the refrigerator or freezer within two hours, as recommended by the USDA.

Additionally, food should only be thawed in the fridge, microwave, or under cold water. If you plan on marinating raw meat, make sure to leave it concealed in the refrigerator and not at room temperature.


What Are the Safest Food Choices For A Senior?

When preparing food for seniors, the items must have a low risk of causing stomach acid reflux or food poisoning. There are numerous food products that are safe to eat and have little chance of leading to foodborne diseases.

Here are some of the safest food choices for an elder loved one:

  • Hard or processed cheeses
    Unlike non-processed cheeses, hard, processed cheeses can be left out at room temperature for several hours without garnering bacteria.

  • Soft cheeses (made from pasteurized milk)
    Similar to hard cheeses, soft cheeses made using pasteurized milk are safe to consume even after being at room temperature for several hours.

  • Fully cooked smoked fish or seafood
    When fish is smoked, it eliminates the possibility of pathogens collecting on the meat. Smoking also gives off a nice flavor.

  • Hot dogs reheated until steaming hot
    One of the few foods that are still tasty after being reheated using a microwave. Hot dogs are a convenient choice for senior citizens.

  • Grilled sandwiches
    Be sure to grill the sandwich until the meat inside is steaming hot, and it will be perfectly safe to eat.

  • Fully cooked fish
    If you are eating fish, there is a possibility of food poisoning. Be sure to fully cook the fish until the meat is loose and flaky.

  • Fully cooked eggs
    When it comes to fully-cooked eggs, the safest options are the hard-boiled or scrambled versions. Fully cooking the eggs destroys dangerous bacteria and also makes them easier to digest

What Types Of Food Are High-Risk For A  Senior?

Older adults are vulnerable to foodborne pathogens such as listeria and salmonella. Your loved one's immune systems and organs no longer have the ability to protect their bodies from harmful germs due to the body slowing down over time. A heavy amount of contaminated food with these harmful bacteria could land an elderly person in an emergency healthcare facility, requiring hospitalization.

To prevent this from happening, you’ll want to help your elder loved one avoid these higher-risk foods:

  • Raw meat and cooked meat
    Chicken, meat spreads, pates, and foods containing these ingredients, are veritable magnets for salmonella. They can also seep bacteria into your cutting board, so always wash it after use.

  • Dairy products
    This includes unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses like brie and camembert. Most dairy products have a short shelf-life and can only be left unrefrigerated for a couple of hours.

  • Eggs and egg products
    Eggnog, cookie dough, and salad dressing are some of the more popular foods that contain eggs. Even older adults like to pluck a few balls of raw cookie dough from the bowl before baking, however, this could lead to salmonella poisoning.

  • Cold cuts
    It can be difficult to tell if perishable foods like luncheon meats and deli meats are spoiled, so elderly people should avoid them.

  • Seafood
    Shellfish such as mussels and clams. These shellfish are known to cause outbreaks of food poisoning.

Caregiving & Senior Food Safety

Growing older makes you wiser and gives you many life experience skills. Unfortunately, it also makes you more susceptible to foodborne diseases.

With many older adults suffering from chronic conditions and weakened immune systems, a bout with food poisoning could be life-threatening. 

So, if you are acting as the caregiver for an elder loved one, it is important to know which foods are safe for them. By doing so, you might unknowingly be saving a life.

Robert C. Fisher

Robert C. Fisher is a Nurse Director at a large medical center in Boston, MA, who holds a Master’s in Nursing Leadership and Administration and an MBA in Healthcare Management.

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