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Food Safety…a Priority in Caring for Others

“With age, comes wisdom.” Hopefully that wisdom includes lots of good food safety information. Why? As we mature, our bodies change. Older adults become more at-risk for illness and, once ill, it can take them longer to recover. As people age, their bodies are less able to combat bacteria. With age comes changes in our immune systems. Changes often make us more susceptible to contracting a foodborne illness or food poisoning. Our liver and kidneys may not readily rid our bodies of toxins. Our sense of taste or smell may be altered which may not always sound an alert when meat is spoiled, or milk might be sour. By the time we turn 65, many of us have been diagnosed with one or more chronic conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer, or cardiovascular disease, and are taking at least one medication. The side effects of some medications or the chronic disease process may weaken the immune system, causing older adults to be more susceptible to contracting a foodborne illness. To avoid contracting a foodborne illness, older adults must be especially vigilant when handling, preparing, and consuming foods.

Knowing some safe food handling tips will help older adults stay healthy. Some older adults are homebound and must rely on delivered food and some have minimal cooking knowledge and skills. In general, the foods that are most likely to contain harmful bacteria or viruses fall into two categories: Uncooked fresh fruits and vegetables  and some animal products, such as unpasteurized (raw) milk; soft cheeses made with raw milk; raw or undercooked eggs, raw meat, raw poultry, raw fish, raw shellfish and their juices, and luncheon meats.

Carefully read food labels while in the store to make sure food is not past its “sell by” date. Put raw packaged meat, poultry, or seafood into a plastic bag before placing it in the shopping cart, so that its juices will not drip on and contaminate the other foods. Buy only pasteurized milk, cheese, and other dairy products from the refrigerated section. Purchase eggs in the shell from the refrigerated section of the store. Never buy food that is displayed in unsafe or unclean conditions. Purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged. When purchasing canned goods, make sure that they are free of dents, cracks, or bulging lids and once you are home, remember to clean each lid before opening them.

Some signs and symptoms of foodborne illness may include anything from upset stomach, diarrhea, fever, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and dehydration and even more severe illness or even death. By taking some of these tips, you can reduce the risk of foodborne illness, especially in the home. If you or a loved one experiences any of the referenced symptoms of foodborne illness, call your doctor or health care provider.

Two easy tips to always remember is The Two-Hour Rule – Perishable food should not be left out at room temperature longer than two hours. Discard food which has been left at room temperature longer than two hours and When in doubt, throw it out!