*  Why are Seniors At-risk for Foodborne Illness?

*  What’s a Senior to Eat?

*  To Market, To Market

*  Four Simple Steps to Preparing Food at Home

*  Eating Out and Bringing Food Home

*  Taking Care of Infants and Young Children



Why are Seniors At-Risk for Foodborne Illness?


Dr. James L. Smith, a microbiologist with the US Department of Agriculture, wanted to find out the answer to the question of why seniors are more at risk for foodborne illness.


So he reviewed data from foodborne outbreaks at nursing homes, and compared the immune and digestive systems of seniors and younger individuals as well as evaluating the overall physical wellbeing of seniors.  What he found is most interesting.


The Immune System and Aging


As we age, the ability of our immune system to function at normal levels decreases.  The immune system is one of the most important mechanisms for fighting disease and preserving health, so a decrease in the level of disease-fighting cells is a significant factor in the number of infections that may occur.


In addition to the normal decrease in the function of the immune system as part of the aging process, undergoing major surgery also affects the body’s ability to fight off infections.


To counteract the affects of aging on the immune system, long-term regular exercise is important.


The Gastrointestinal Tract and Aging


As we age, inflammation of the lining of the stomach and a decrease in stomach acid occur.  Because the stomach plays an important role in limiting the number of bacteria that enter the small intestine, a decrease or loss of stomach acidity increases the likelihood of infection if a pathogen is ingested with food or water.


Also adding to the problem is the slow down of the digestive process, allowing for the rapid growth of pathogens in the gut and the possible formation of toxins.


Malnutrition and Aging


You maybe wondering what malnutrition has to do with foodborne illness.  There is a connection.  Malnutrition leads to increased incidence of infections, including those that result from foodborne bacteria.


There are many reasons why malnutrition occurs in seniors.  There may be a decrease in the pleasure of eating.  Medication, digestive disorders, chronic illnesses, physical disabilities or depression may result in a loss of appetite.


Good nutrition is an important factor in maintaining a healthy immune system.


Symptoms of Foodborne Illness


Common symptoms of foodborne illness include diarrhea, abdominal cramping, fever, sometimes blood or pus in the  stools, headache, vomiting and severe exhaustion.  However, symptoms will vary according to the type of bacteria and by the amount of contaminants eaten.


Symptoms may come on as early as half-hour after eating the contaminated food or they may not develop for several days or weeks.  They usually last only a day or two, but in some cases can persist a week to 10 days.  For most healthy people, foodborne illnesses are neither long lasting nor life threatening.  However, they can be severe in seniors.


In Case of Foodborne Illness


If you suspect that your of a family member has foodborne illness follow these general guidelines:


  1. Preserve the evidence.  If a portion of the suspect food is available, wrap it securely, mark “DANGER” and refrigerate it.  Save all the packaging materials, such as cans or cartons.  Write down the food type, the date, and time consumed, and when the symptoms started.  Save any identical unopened products.
  2. Seek treatment immediately.
  3. Call the local health department if the suspect food was served at a large gathering, from a restaurant or other food service facility, or if it is a commercial product.




What’s a Senior to Eat?


Nutritionists agree that a healthful diet includes a variety of foods.  Food choices also can help reduce the risk for chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancers, diabetes, stroke and osteoporosis, that are the leading cause of death and disability among Americans.  But for seniors, certain foods may pose a significant health hazard because of the level of bacteria present in the product’s raw or uncooked state.


Seniors should avoid these products:


*  Raw fin fish and shellfish, including oysters, clams, mussels and scallops.


*  Raw or unpasteurised milk or cheese.


*  Soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, and Mexican-style cheese.  (Hard cheeses, processed cheeses, cream cheeses, cottage cheeses or yoghurt need not be avoided).


*  Raw or lightly cooked egg or egg products including salad dressings, cookie or cake batter, sauces, and beverages such as egg nog.


*  Raw meat or poultry.


*  Raw alfalfa sprouts which have only recently emerged as a recognised source of foodborne illness.


*  Unpasteurised or untreated fruit or vegetable juice.  When fruits and vegetables are made into fresh-squeezed juice, harmful bacteria that may be present can become part of the finished product.  Most juice in the United States, 98 percent, is pasteurised or otherwise treated to kill harmful bacteria.  To help consumers identify unpasteurised or untreated juices, the Food and Drug Administration is requiring a warning label on these products.  The label says:



This product has not been pasteurised and therefore may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.




To Market, To Market


Prevention of foodborne illness starts with your trip to the supermarket.  Pick up your packaged and canned foods first.  Don’t buy food in cans that are bulging or dented or in jars that are cracked or have loose or bulging lids.  Look for any expiration dates on the labels and never buy outdated foods.  Likewise, check the “use by” or “sell by” dates on dairy products such as cottage cheese, cream cheese, yoghurt and sour cream and pick the ones that will stay fresh longest in your refrigerator.


*  Choose eggs that are refrigerated in the store.  Before putting them in your cart, open the carton and make sure that none are cracked or leaking.


*  Save to the last frozen foods and perishables such as meat, poultry or fish.  Always put these products in separate plastic bags to that drippings don’t contaminate other foods in your shopping cart.


*  Check for cleanliness at the meat or fish counter and the salad bar.  For instance, cooked shrimp lying on the same bed of ice as raw fish could be contaminated.  When buying from a salad bar, avoid fruits and vegetables that look brownish, slimy or dried out.  These are signs that the product has been held at an improper temperature.


*  When shopping for shellfish, buy from markets that get their supplies from state-approved sources; stay clear of vendors who sell shellfish from roadside stands or the back of a truck.  And if you’re planning to harvest your own shellfish, heed posted warning about the safety of water.


*  Take an ice chest along to keep frozen and perishable foods cold if it will take more than two

     hours to get your groceries home.



Four Simple Steps to Preparing Food Safely at Home


Clean:  Wash hands and surfaces often


Bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, utensils, sponges and counter tops.  Here’s how to Fight BAC:


*  Wash your hands with hot soapy water before handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets.


*  Wash your cutting board, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next food.


*  Use plastic or other non-porous cutting boards.  These boards should be run through the dishwasher – or washed in hot soapy water – after use.


*  Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces.  If you use cloth towels, wash them often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.



Separate:  Don’t cross-contaminate


Cross-contamination is the scientific word for how bacteria can be spread from one food product to another.  This is especially true when handling raw meat, poultry and seafood, so keep these foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods.  Here’s how to Fight BAC:


*  Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods in your grocery shopping cart and in your refrigerator.


*  If possible, use a different cutting board or raw meat products.


*  Always wash hands, cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot soapy water after they come in contact with raw meat, poultry and seafood.


*  Never place cooked food on a plate which previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood.



Cook:  Cook to proper temperatures


Food safety experts agree that foods are properly cooked when they are heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness.  The best way to Fight BAC is to:


*  Use a clean thermometer, which measures the internal temperature of cooked foods, to make sure meat, poultry, casseroles and other foods are cooked all the way through.


*  Cook roasts and steaks to at least 145°F.  Whole poultry should be cooked to 180°F for doneness.


*  Cook ground beef, where bacteria can spread during processing, to at least 160°F.  Information from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) link eating undercooked, pink ground beef with a higher risk of illness.  If a thermometer is not available, do not eat ground beef that is still pink inside.


*  Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm.  Don’t use recipes in which eggs remain raw or only partially cooked.


*  Fish should be opaque and flake easily with a fork.


*  When cooking in a microwave oven, make sure there are no cold spots in food where bacteria can survive.  For best results, cover food, stir and rotate for even cooking.  If there is no turntable, rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking.


*  Bring sauces, soups and gravy to a boil when reheating.  Heat other leftovers thoroughly to 165°F.



Chill: Refrigerate promptly


Refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures keep harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying.  So, set your refrigerator no higher than 40°F and the freezer unit at 0°F.  Checking these temperatures occasionally with an appliance thermometer.  Then, Fight BAC by following  these steps:


*  Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared food and leftover within two hours.


*  Never defrost food at room temperature.  Thaw food in the refrigerator, under cold running water or in the microwave.  Marinate foods in the refrigerator.


*  Divide large amounts of leftovers into small, shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator.


*  Don’t pack the refrigerator.  Cool air must circulate to keep food safe.


                Additional Tips – Safe Handling of Fruits and Vegetables


          *       Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20

                    seconds before and after handling food, especially fresh

                    whole fruits and vegetables and raw meat, poultry and fish.

                    Clean under fingernails, too.


     *       Rinse raw produce in water.  Don’t use soap or other

              detergents.  If necessary, and appropriate, use a small scrub

              brush to remove surface dirt.


*      Use smooth, durable and non-absorbent cutting boards that can

         be cleaned and sanitized easily.


              *       Wash cutting boards with hot water, soap and a scrub

                        brush to remove food particles.  Then sanitise the boards by

                        putting them through the automatic dishwasher or rinsing

                        them in a solution of 1 teaspoon (5 millilitres) of chlorine

                        bleach to 1 quart (about 1 litre) of water.  Always wash

                        boards and knives after cutting raw meat, poultry or

                        seafood and before cutting another food to prevent cross-



          *       Store cut, peeled and broken-apart fruits and vegetables

                   (such as melon balls) at or below 41°F (5°C) that is, in the



Apply the Heat…. And Fight BAC


Cooking food to the proper temperature kills harmful bacteria.  This includes raw meat, poultry, fish and eggs, as well as foods that are thoroughly cooked upon purchase, but that may become contaminated during storage or handling.


Re-heat ready-to-eat foods such as hot dogs, luncheon meats, cold cuts, fermented and dry sausage, and other deli-style meat and poultry products until they are steaming hot.  If you cannot re-heat these foods, do not eat them.


Thoroughly cook other foods as follows:


Raw Food


Ground Products


Beef, veal, lamb, pork

Chicken, turkey


Beef, Veal, Lamb

Roasts and Steaks






Chops, roast, ribs




Ham, fresh

Sausage, fresh



Chicken, whole and pieces


Turkey (unstuffed)



           Dark Meat

           Stuffing (cooked separately)



Fried, poached



Internal Temperature































Yolk and white are firm






When Someone Else is the Cook …..

(eating out and bringing home food)


Let’s face it.  Sometimes it’s just easier and more enjoyable to let someone else do the cooking. And for today’s seniors there are many eating options.  All of these options, however, do have food safety implications that you need to be aware of.


Complete Meals to Go

And Home Delivered Meals


When you want to eat at home but don’t feel like cooking or aren’t able to, where do you turn?


*  Many convenience foods, including meals to go, are experiencing runaway popularity.

*  Purchased from grocery stores, delis or restaurants, some meals are hot and some are cold.

*  Ordering delivered meals from restaurants or restaurant-delivery services is an option many consumers like to take advantage of.

*  And of course, for those who qualify, there are programs like Meals on Wheels that provide a ready-prepared meal each day.


Hot or cold ready-prepared meals are perishable and can cause illness when mishandled. Proper handling is essential to ensure the food is safe.


The 2-Hour Rule


Harmful bacteria can grow rapidly in the “danger zone” (between 40 and 140 degrees F).  So remember the 2-hour rule.  Discard any perishable foods left at room temperature longer than 2 hours.


When you purchase hot cooked food, keep it hot.  Eat and enjoy your food within 2 hours to prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying.  If you are not eating within 2 hours, keep your food in the oven set at a high enough temperature to keep the food at or above 140 degrees F.  (Use a food thermometer to check the temperature).  Stuffing and side dishes must also stay hot.  Covering food with foil will help keep it moist.


Rather than keeping cooked food warming in an oven for an extended period of time, cooked foods will taste better if you refrigerate them and then re-heat when you are ready to eat.


*  Divide meat or poultry into small portions to refrigerate or freeze.

*  Refrigerate or freeze gravy, potatoes, and other vegetables in shallow containers.

*  Remove stuffing from whole cooked poultry and refrigerate.


Cold food should also be eaten within 2 hours or refrigerated or frozen for eating another time.




You may wish to reheat your meal, whether it was purchased hot and then refrigerated or purchased cold initially.


*  Heat thoroughly to 165°F until hot and steaming.

*  Bring gravy to a rolling boil.

*  If heating in a microwave oven, cover food and rotate dish so it heats evenly.

*  Inadequate heating in the microwave can contribute to illness.  Consult your owner’s manual for complete instructions.


Eating Out


Whether you’re eating out at an upscale restaurant, a Senior Centre, or a fast food diner, this can be both a safe and enjoyable experience if you take the same precautions yo would if you were eating at home.


All food service establishments are required to follow sanitation guidelines set by state and local health departments to ensure cleanliness and good hygiene.  However, when you go out to eat, look at how clean things are before you even sit down.  Are the tables, dinnerware, and bathrooms neat and tidy?  If not, it may be better to dine somewhere else.  A dirty dining room nay indicate a dirty kitchen, and a dirty kitchen may lead to unsafe food.


Seniors need to avoid the same foods in restaurants that they avoid at home.  If you are unsure about the ingredients in particular dish, ask before ordering it.


No matter where you at out, always order your food “well done”.  Remember the foods like meat, poultry, fish and eggs need to be cooked thoroughly to kill off harmful bacteria.  When you’re served a meal, check how well it’s cooked before you eat it.  Make sure it’s served to you piping hot and thoroughly cooked, and if it’s not, send it back.


The Doggie Bag


It seems like meal portions are getting bigger and bigger these days.  Which means that there is another meal waiting for another day.  Care must be taken when handling these leftovers.


If you will not be arriving home within 2 hours of finishing your meal, it is safer to leave the leftovers at the restaurant.


Also, remember that the inside of a car can get very warm.  Bacteria may grow rapidly, so it is always safer to go directly home after eating and put your leftovers in the refrigerator.


Some Senior Centres that provide meals do not allow food to be taken away from the site because they know how east it is for bacteria to multiply to dangerous levels when food is left unrefrigerated too long.  Check with your centre for its policy on taking leftovers home.


When Grandparent Take Care of Grandchildren:

What you need to know about food safety and young children


You’ve probably seen the t-shirts that read: “If I’d known how much fun it is to have grandchildren, I would have had them first.”  Well, it is fun when grandchildren come to visit, or if you regularly lend a hand with their care.  But as you know, the care and feeding of grandchildren is also a major responsibility.


Many of the feeding practices you probably used with your own children are no longer advocated for today’s infants and toddlers.  So let’s take a look at the food safety implications of feeding that special new person in your life.


The Latest, Safest Information on Feeding Infants and Young Children


Keep it Clean – Always begin formula and food preparation by washing your hands.  According to a Penn State University study of mothers with infants less than 4 months old,


*  32% said they don’t wash their hands after changing their baby’s diaper;

*  about 15% said they don’t wash their hands after they went to the bathroom;

*  about 10% don’t wash their hands after handling raw meat;

*  about 41% don’t wash their hands after petting animals; and

*  about 5% didn’t wash their hands after gardening or working with soil.


Did you know that not washing hands could result in infant diarrhea because: Bacteria can grow


*  on diapers;

*  in faeces and urine;

*  in raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs;

*  on animals like dogs, cats, turtles, snakes and birds; and

*  in soil and water.



Handling Baby’s Food Safely


Harmful bacteria from a baby’s mouth can be introduced into food or bottles where it can grow and multiply even after refrigeration and reheating.  If the baby does not finish a bottle, do not put it back in the refrigerator for another time.


Likewise, do not feed a baby from a jar of baby food and put it back in the refrigerator for another time. Saliva on the spoon contaminates the remaining food.


Perishable items like milk, formula or food left out of the refrigerator or without a cold source for more than 2 hours should not be used.


When travelling with baby,


*  transport bottles and food in an insulated cooler.

*  Place the ice chest in the passenger compartment of the car.  It’s cooler than in the boot.

*  Use frozen gel packs to keep food or bottles cold on longer outings.

*  Do not keep bottles or food in the same bag with dirty diapers.


Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for preparing bottles before filling with formula or milk. Observe “Use-by” dates on formula cans.  See baby food safe storage chart for detailed information. Don’t feed a baby anything kept longer.


Those interested in health foods may consider using honey as a sweetener to entice babies to drink water from a bottle.  Honey is not safe for children less than a year old.  It can contain the botulinum organism that could cause illness or death.  Raw or unpasteurised milk should not be served to infants and children.


If making homemade baby food, use a brush to clean areas around the blender blades or food processor parts.  Old food particles can harbour harmful bacteria that may contaminate other foods.


Use detergent and hot water to wash and rinse all utensils (including the can opener) which comes in contact with baby’s foods.


If using commercial baby foods, check to see if the safety button on the lid is down.  If the jar doesn’t “pop” when opened, do not use.  Discard jars with chipped glass or rusty lids.


To freeze homemade baby food, put the mixture in an ice cube tray.  Cover with heavy duty plastic wrap until the food is frozen.  Then pop food cubes into a freezer bag or airtight container and date it.  Store up to 3 months.  One cube equals one serving.


Small jars can also be used for freezing.  Leave about ˝ inch of space at the top because food expands when frozen.




NOTE:  Don’t leave baby food solids or liquids out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

                                                    Refrigerator               Freezer


Expressed breast milk                     5 days                        3-4 months

Formula                                         2 days                        not recommended

Whole milk                                    5 days                        3 months


Evaporated milk                             3-5 days                     not recommended




  1. For shelf storage of unopened cans of formula, observe “use by” dates printed on containers.  Store evaporated milk up to 12 months.
  2. Heat liquid in disposable bottles in hot tap water, not in microwave.
  3. If heating glass or hard plastic bottles in the microwave, remove the cap and teat first.
  4. Shake bottle before testing the temperature on top of your hand.
  5. Discard any unused milk left in a bottle.

                                                   Refrigerator               Freezer

SOLIDS – opened or freshly made

Strained fruits and

Vegetables                                    2-3 days                    6-8 months

Strained meats and eggs                 1 day                        1-2 months

Meat/vegetable combinations         1-2 days                    1-2 months

Homemade baby foods                   1-2 days                    3-4 months




  1. Observe “use by” dated for shelf storage of unopened jars.
  2. Check to see that the safety button in lid is down.  If the jar lid does not “pop” when opened or is not sealed safely, do not use.
  3. Do not heat meats, meat sticks, eggs or jar of food in the microwave.
  4. Transfer food from jars to bowls or heating dish. For 4 ounces of food, microwave on high 15 seconds; stir and let stand 30 seconds.
  5. Stir and test the temperature of the foods before feeding baby.
  6. Don’t feed a baby from the jar.