NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Senior Food Safety

Senior Food Safety

Our nation's food supply may be among the safest in the world, but food safety outbreaks still occur and they can pose a serious infection risk to older adults.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year in the U.S. from foodborne infection and illness. Many of those are older adults and very young children – two groups with weakened or not fully developed immune systems.

According to “Food Safety for Older Adults,” a need-to-know guide for people age 65 and older, the expected changes in organs and body systems make seniors more susceptible to food illness, and steps must be taken to become especially vigilant when handling, preparing and consuming foods.

By age 65, most people have been diagnosed with one or more chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer or cardiovascular disease. Most older people take one or more medications for one or more of these conditions, and the side effects of some medications or the chronic disease itself can weaken the immune system.  Good nutrition throughout aging years is the key. The better nourished you are, the stronger your immune system is.

As we age, our sense of smell, taste and sight can decline. All of these things can have an impact on nutritional status. If nutritional status is compromised, immunity can be decreased. The best way to prevent a foodborne illness is to handle and store food properly:


  • Wash your hands often. Keeping germs off your hands helps to prevent them from getting on food.
  • Always cook food, especially meat, until it is done. The best way to know if a meat is safe is if it is cooked to a proper temperature. You can use a meat thermometer to make sure that meat is cooked thoroughly.
  • Make sure to thaw and store foods properly. Meat should be thawed in the refrigerator.
  • When serving leftovers, the food should be thoroughly re-heated. 
  • Once the meal is over, food should be promptly stored in the refrigerator. A food should never sit at room temperature longer than two hours.

    There are some foods that seniors should not eat because of a higher risk for illness. They include raw or unpasteurized milk or cheese made from raw milk; soft cheeses such as brie, feta, camembert, blue-veined cheeses and Mexican-style cheese; raw or lightly cooked eggs; raw or undercooked meat, poultry or fish; raw sprouted seeds and unpasteurized or untreated juice.

              Eating out is a favorite activity of active seniors and uneaten restaurant specialties may be taken home in a doggy bag. With leftovers, be it a sandwich or a main meal from a restaurant or dinner table, always refrigerate within two hours of purchase, delivery or service. If the leftover food is in air temperatures above 90 F, refrigerate it within one hour.  Seniors often tie a lot of trips together: eating out, shopping, bridge, walking with a friend. That may be more efficient with gas and time, but it may not be the best thing for food safety. Shopping for perishables at the end of the outing is recommended. And bring an ice cooler with enough ice and frozen packs to keep food at 40 F or below the entire time. The cooler is a great place for doggy bags and perishables.”

              Checking the dates on canned goods and perishable foods like meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products can be confusing as they have different dates stamped on them but it is an important step in food safety. 

    Some have a 'best by,' 'use by' or 'best if used by (or before)' date stamped on them. These indicate the date recommended for best flavor and quality. It is not a purchase or safety date. Expiration date is exactly what it says: the date to toss something out if it hasn't been used. 'Sell by' or 'pull by' dates tell stores when to remove products from the shelves, but there's still some leeway before it goes bad..

    Then there's the pack date, which is usually coded by month, day and year, YYMMDD or MMDDYY. Some cans feature coding 1 through 365 for each day of the year. Others use 12 of the first 13 letters in the alphabet to signify a month and give numbers for day and year in either order. A good rule of thumb: buyer beware.

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