March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Adults aged 65 and over are more vulnerable to food poisoning and should take extra care to safely handle food. However, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration consumer survey data, older adults appear to be less consistent in practicing safe food handling than the general population.
The number of seniors living in America is expected to double to an estimated 71.5 million by 2030, and a greater number of these older Americans will stay in their own homes. For older adults who continue to prepare a majority of their own meals and snacks, it is important they prepare foods safely and ask for assistance when needed.
Why Are Older Adults More Vulnerable?
As adults age, their immune systems weaken, making it harder to fight off bacteria and serious illness. Older adults have less stomach acid to control bacteria and weakened kidneys to help filter bacteria from the blood. Once contracted, food poisoning can be difficult to treat and can reoccur. In addition, poor eyesight and sense of smell may keep some older adults from noticing food spills and signs of spoilage. Other reasons include:
- By age 65, many adults have been diagnosed with one or more chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer or cardiovascular disease, and are taking at least one medication. These factors may weaken the immune system, causing older adults to be more susceptible to contracting food poisoning.
- After age 75, adults often have weakened immune systems and are at an increased risk for contracting food poisoning.
Tips for Older Adults
The good news is that food poisoning can be prevented. Older adults should practice the four simple steps of wash, separate, cook and refrigerate, as well as these tips:
- If needed, wear glasses when handling food.
- Turn up the lights because older adults may have more trouble with glare.
- Label perishable food with a date with a marker that is dark and easy to read – don't rely on memory.
- Cook simple, easy-to-make dishes to save your energy for cleanup. For example, buy pre-chopped, frozen vegetables instead of doing all the prep work yourself.
- Don't rely on sight, smell or taste to determine if food is safe to eat. Always use a food thermometer to check the doneness of cooked foods such as meats, poultry, egg dishes and leftovers. And check the shelf life of leftovers and foods with the Keep It Cool: Refrigerator Storage Chart or download the free Is My Food Safe? app, which features a detailed listing of the shelf life of foods.
- Set up a support system of family and friends to help with kitchen tasks when you're low on energy.
- Refrigerate leftovers right away and reheat them to the proper temperature before eating.
Learn more about safe food handling for those vulnerable to food poisoning and the foods they should avoid.