Senior citizen food safety

Check your old family recipes to ensure there's no room for foodborne illnesses in your favorite dishes.

Do you have a favorite family recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation? Most of us have a favorite or two passed down from mom or grandma. Unknowingly, we may use these recipes, or even pass them on to others, with outdated directions not consistent with what we now know about food safety. 

New bacteria have emerged and others have gotten stronger since many of our favorite recipes were developed. For example, in 1990, the United States Public Health Service called E. coli, salmonella, listeria and campylobacter the four most serious food borne pathogens in the United States. Twenty years before that, three of these--campylobacter, listeria and E. coli--were not even recognized as a source of foodborne disease! Today the “big six” of foodborne illnesses consist of salmonella typhi, non-typhoidal salmonella, E.coli, shigella, norovirus and hepatitis A. 

Senior citizens are one of the groups more susceptible to foodborne illness; the others are infants and toddlers and those adults with weakened immune systems. Michigan State University Extension recommends we evaluate our old recipes for food safety:

1. The oven temperature should be at least 325 degrees Fahrenheit for cooking meat and poultry and casseroles containing those ingredients. Lower temperatures may not heat the food fast enough to prevent bacterial growth. Avoid partially cooking or browning foods to cook later. Any bacteria present will not be destroyed. If you are partially cooking food in the microwave for any reason, finish cooking by another method immediately afterwards.

2. Avoid recipes in which eggs remain raw or are only partially cooked. Cook eggs until the yolk and whites are firm; not runny. Be especially careful of dishes like Caesar's salad dressing, mousses, chiffons, homemade ice cream, mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce or eggnog. When making these dishes, start with a cooked custard base that has been heated to a temperature of 160 F and then chilled, or use pasteurized eggs or egg products.

3. Marinate in a covered container in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Marinating time in the refrigerator should not exceed the recommended storage time for the type and cut of fresh meat or poultry being used. Do not reuse leftover marinade unless you boil it. It can be rife with bacteria.

The next time you make an old time family favorite dish or share a recipe with a friend, check to see if you should do a food safety update. If you would like more information about food safety, contact your local MSU Extension office.

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