Aging gracefully involves preventing foodborne illness

As we age, we become more susceptible to foodborne illness.

As a person ages, they become more susceptible to foodborne illness. There is a decrease in stomach acid, which is a natural defense against bacteria and over time, the immune system becomes less capable of fighting off bacteria in the body that may be causing a foodborne illness. Understanding and practicing safe food handling is the best preventative step to keep seniors healthy.

Relying on smell or taste is not a good way to determine if a food item has gone bad. Many of the pathogens that can cause foodborne illness cannot be seen or smelled. The sense of smell and taste can also be impacted by age, illness or medication as well.

Following these safe food-handling tips can help ensure food is safe:

  • Always wash hands with warm, soapy water before and after preparing food.
  • Keep counters clean, wash with warm soapy water and rinse prior to preparing food and after.
  • Wash cutting boards and other work surfaces that are exposed to raw meat and poultry.
  • Avoid washing meat before cooking – cooking to the correct internal temperature will take care of the bacteria.
  • Never thaw foods at room temperature (on the counter or in the sink). Thaw in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave. If you use the microwave, you must continue cooking the food.
  • Never leave perishable food out of the refrigerator over two hours. If room temperature is above 90 degrees F, food should not be left out over an hour. This includes leftovers from restaurants, Meals-on-Wheels and church take-out meals.
  • Refrigerate or freeze all perishable foods. Make sure your refrigerator is set at 40 degrees F or cooler and the freezer temperature should be 0 degrees F or less. Utilize thermometers in both the refrigerator and freezer.
  • Thoroughly cook raw meat, poultry and fish. Do not rely on color or “until the juice runs clear” to determine if it is cooked properly. Always set the oven at 325 degrees F or higher. There is no need to bring food to room temperature before cooking.

Michigan State University Extension encourages safe food practices to avoid foodborne illness. 

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