Food safety is very important for older adults because they are at increased risk of foodborne illness. Good food safety habits are very important. Follow these simple food safety guidelines:
Wash Hands Often
Proper hand washing may eliminate nearly half of all potential cases of foodborne illness. It also significantly reduces the spread of the common cold and flu. Wash hands before, during and after meal preparation—use warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds and use a clean, dry towel to dry your hands.
Practice Good Refrigerator Safety Habits
First, make sure your refrigerator works. Set it cooler than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a refrigerator thermometer and check it regularly.
Then, use your refrigerator properly. Put perishable foods in the refrigerator as soon as you get home from the store. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours. When outdoor temperatures reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer, refrigerate leftovers within one hour. Store foods in small, shallow containers (2 inches deep or less). Discard opened packages of luncheon meats or spreads after three to five days. Eat foods by the "use-by" date on the package. If that date has passed, throw it away.
Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator, under cold running water or in the microwave right before cooking. Do not leave frozen foods on the counter or in the sink to thaw.
Keep Raw Meats and Ready-to-Eat Foods Separate
Prevent cross-contamination by keeping raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods. Use two cuttings boards: one strictly for raw meat, poultry and seafood; the other for ready-to-eat foods like breads and vegetables. Wash cutting boards thoroughly in hot, soapy water after each use or place in dishwasher. Discard old cutting boards that have cracks, crevices and knife scars.
Cook to Proper Temperatures
Proper cooking temperatures kill harmful bacteria present in food. Always use a meat thermometer to check the doneness of meat, poultry, seafood and dishes containing eggs. Use the following quick internal temperature guide:
- Beef, veal, pork, lamb: 145 degrees Fahrenheit *
- Poultry: 165 degrees
- Ground beef, veal, pork, lamb: 160 degrees
- Ground poultry: 165 degrees
- Casseroles, egg dishes: 160 degrees
- Fin fish: 145 degrees or untilopaque flesh, flakes with a fork
- Scallops: cook until flesh is milky white or opaque and firm
- Shrimp, lobster and crab: cook until flesh is pearly and opaque
- Clams, oysters and mussels: cook until shells open during cooking
- Leftovers: reheat to at least 165 degrees
- Deli-style meats and hotdogs reheat until steaming hot
- Soups, gravies and sauces: bring to a boil.
- Boil a meat marinade for several minutes if you plan to re-use it.
- Eggs: whether boiling, frying or scrambling, make sure the yolks and whites are firm, not runny
Foods Older Adults Should Not Eat
As people age, their immune systems become weaker: they have less stomach acid to control bacteria; their kidneys, which help filter bacteria from the blood, weaken; and infections from foodborne illness can be hard to treat. Because of this risk, older adults should avoid eating the following:
- Raw, rare or undercooked meats and poultry (rare hamburgers, carpaccio and beef or steak tartare)
- Raw fish (including sushi, sashimi, ceviche and carpaccio)
- Undercooked and raw shellfish (clams, oysters, mussels and scallops)
- Refrigerated smoked seafood unless its in a cooked dish, such as a casserole.
- Unpasteurized dairy products ("raw" milk and cheeses)
- Some fresh soft cheeses (Brie, Camembert, blue-veined varieties and Mexican-style queso fresco) unless made with pasteurized milk
- Raw or undercooked eggs (soft-cooked, runny or poached)
- Food items that contain undercooked eggs (unpasteurized eggnog, Monte Cristo sandwiches, French toast, homemade Caesar salad dressing, Hollandaise sauce, some puddings and custards, chocolate mousse, tiramisu and raw cookie dough or cake batter)
- Raw sprouts (alfalfa, clover and radish)
- Deli salads
- Unpasteurized fruit and vegetable juices
- Refrigerated pate or meat spreads
If you think you have a foodborne illness, contact your health-care provider.
*Allow to rest 3 minutes before carving or consuming.
Reviewed December 2012