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Food Safety For Older Adults

Food Safety For Older Adults

Foodborne illnesses should never be taken lightly. This is especially true for older adults since food poisoning in the elderly can lead to hospitalization and serious health problems. Which is why it is important for people to be aware of how to store, handle, and prepare food so that it is safe for consumption.

Diet Plan for Older Adults: Important Tips and Considerations

What Causes Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning, also known as foodborne illness or food-related illness, happens when a person eats food contaminated by parasites, bacteria, or viruses.

This can happen due to improper handling of food, improper storing, as well as not adequately cooking the food before serving. In some cases, cooked food left out for too long can cause food poisoning.

This happens because food can possibly be contaminated at any point before you eat it, which can cause you to become ill.

Why are the Elderly at Risk?

Most people who experience food poisoning usually recover without any serious problems. But when it comes to the elderly, their immune systems are not as strong as they used to, so they are more prone to chronic infections.

And as people grow older, their bodies undergo changes that can increase the risk of food poisoning.

One is that as people grow older, food stays longer inside the gastrointestinal tract. This means that any bacteria present in the food will have time to grow and cause illness. This is compounded by the fact that the stomach produces less stomach acids, which aside from digesting food, also helps kill any harmful bacteria.

The liver and kidneys also do not function as well in older people compared to younger people.

Some elderly people also have preexisting conditions such as kidney disease or diabetes, which can affect how their immune system functions.

This combination of factors is the reason why the elderly are at a higher risk of food poisoning.

What are the Effects of Food Poisoning in the Elderly?

The symptoms of food poisoning can vary from person to person. But when it comes to the effects of food poisoning in the elderly, the risk can be increased. This is mainly due to the fact that the elderly have weaker immune systems, which means they get sick easily.

Here are some of the common effects of food poisoning in the elderly to watch out for:

  • An upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever and chills
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pains or cramps
  • Nausea

However, please note that the elderly will not present with fever and other typical symptoms, so don’t forget to watch out for loss of appetite and generalized weakness.

The symptoms of food poisoning usually appear a few hours after eating contaminated food. However, it is also possible for it to occur days or weeks after.

Food poisoning in the elderly should always be taken seriously, because the symptoms can quickly escalate and develop into something more serious. In some cases, it can even lead to death. This is especially true if the person has a preexisting health condition or a compromised immune system.

What Should You Do in Case it Happens?

When an elderly person experiences food poisoning, here’s what you need to do:

  • Call for help as soon as possible, and ideally call their doctor.
  • If the food is still available, keep it in a tightly sealed container, label it as “Unsafe” and keep it in the fridge. This can help in diagnosing the specific illness.
  • For packaged food, be sure to keep the packaging and any labels, and take note of the expiration date.
  • In the meantime, try to let the sick person rest, and keep them hydrated with fluids. If they can’t tolerate intke of fluids, bring them to the hospital.
  • It would also be a good idea to take their temperature, and take note of any symptoms that they are experiencing

The most important thing to remember would be to seek medical assistance. Food poisoning is usually something that most people can recover from. But for the elderly, it can quickly become a serious illness if left untreated.

How Can it be Prevented?

Thankfully, food poisoning can easily be prevented. By following these tips, you can help lower the risk of food poisoning in your home:

  • Be sure to cook food thoroughly, and at the right temperature. Cooking is by far the best way to kill off any harmful organisms in food.
  • Leftovers should not be put outside for a long time without refrigeration. When reheating leftovers, be sure that they are heated and cooked thoroughly.
  • Store food properly in the refrigerator or freezer. It would also be a good idea to make sure they are working properly, and keeping your food cold.
  • Food that has already been thawed should not be re-frozen.
  • If you are doubtful about the freshness of your food, do not hesitate to throw it out.
  • Make sure your eating utensils and eating area are both clean.
  • When preparing food, always wash your hands, and avoid using the same cutting board for raw meat, vegetables, etc. since this can cause cross-contamination.
  • For fresh fruits and vegetables, be sure to wash them in water, and brush them with a vegetable brush to clean them.
  • Make sure to always wash your hands before eating.

By following these tips, you should be able to prevent any cases of food poisoning from happening in your home and affecting your elderly.

Learn more about Healthy Aging here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Food safety for adults ages 60 and over – Canada.ca, https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-safety-vulnerable-populations/food-safety-adults-ages-60-over.html, Accessed August 28 2020

Food Safety For Older Adults, https://www.fda.gov/media/83744/download, Accessed August 28 2020

Older Adults and Food Safety, https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/at-risk-populations/older-adults-and-food-safety/CT_Index, Accessed August 28 2020

People at Risk: Older Adults | FoodSafety.gov, https://www.foodsafety.gov/people-at-risk/older-adults#:~:text=If%20you%20are%2065%20or,foods%2C%20so%20keep%20them%20separate., Accessed August 28 2020

Go 40 Or Below, https://www.fightbac.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Go40orBelow_Brochure-ENG-Seniors_R4FNL.pdf, Accessed August 28 2020

Food safety guidance for older adults – PubMed, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16586390/, Accessed August 28 2020

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Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated Jun 06
Medically reviewed by Mia Dacumos, M.D.
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