Mind and Body: Food safety tips, advice for older adults

Published 9:30 am Thursday, January 17, 2019

By Carlene Whitt

Clark County Health Department

When certain disease-causing bacteria, viruses or parasites contaminate food, they can cause foodborne illness.

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Another word for such a bacteria, virus, or parasite is “pathogen.”

Foodborne illness are often called food poisoning.

The food supply in the U.S. is among the safest in the world, but it can still be a source of infection.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne infection and illness in the U.S. each year.

Many of these people are children, older adults or have weakened immune systems and may not be able to fight infection normally.

Since foodborne illness can be serious or even fatal it is important for you to know and practice safe food-handling behaviors to help reduce your risk of getting sick from contaminated food.

As we age, it is normal for our bodies not to work as well as they did when we were younger.

Changes in our organs and body systems are expected as we grow older. These changes often make us more susceptible to contracting a foodborne illness or food poisoning.

For example, our stomach and intestinal tract may hold on to foods for a longer period of time; our liver and kidneys may not readily rid our bodies of toxins; and our sense of taste or smell may be altered.

By age 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.

After age 75 and older, many adults often have a weakened immune system and are at an increased risk for contracting a foodborne illness.

Essentially, as we age, our immune system and other organs in our bodies have become a bit sluggish in recognizing and ridding the body of harmful bacteria and other pathogens that cause infections.

Should older adults contract a foodborne illness, they are more likely to have a lengthier illness, need hospitalization or even die.

To avoid contacting a foodborne illness, older adults must be especially vigilant when handling, preparing and consuming foods.

Make safe handling a lifelong commitment to minimize your risk of foodborne illness.

Be aware as you age, your immunity to infection naturally is weakened.

Foodborne pathogens are sneaky.

Food that appears completely fine can contain pathogens that can make you sick.

You should never taste a food to determine if it is safe to eat.

As an older adult, it is especially important that you — or those preparing your food — are always careful with food handling and preparation.

The easiest way to do this is to clean, separate, cook and chill.

— Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often.

— Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate.

Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria are spread from one food product to another.

This is especially common when handling raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs. The key is to keep these foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods.

— Cook: Cook to safe temperatures.

Use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods.

— Chill: Cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria.

Keeping a constant refrigerator temperature of 40 degrees F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce risk of foodborne illness.

Some foods are more risky for you than others.

In general, the foods that are most likely to contain harmful bacteria or viruses fall in two categories:

— Uncooked fresh fruits and vegetables.

— Some animal products, such as unpasteurized milk; soft cheeses made with raw milk; and raw or undercooked eggs, raw meat, raw poultry, raw fish, and their juices; luncheon meats and deli-type salads (without added preservatives) prepared on site in a deli-type establishment.

The risk these foods may actually pose depends on the origin or source of the food and how the food is processed, stored and prepared.

If you suspect you have a foodborne illness, consult your physician or health care provider, or seek medical treatment as appropriate.

As an older adult, you are at an increased risk for severe infection.

Clark County Health Department supports families through a variety of programming and services, including: Nutrition Therapy, family planning, immunizations, WIC, HANDS, community education events, Cooper Clayton smoking cessation, etc. For more information on our services, call 744-4482 or visitclarkhealthdept.org. Information for this article was taken from fda.gov. Additional information may also be found on the FSIS website www.fsis.usda.gov.