It may not seem fair, but aging parents and other seniors are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses than the general population. Why is this the case? Unfortunately, aging parents and other seniors tend to become less adept at fighting bacteria. In addition, the senses of taste and smell often weaken a bit with age, which can prevent a person from identifying a food product as past its prime, with the result that they ingest food that is no longer as safe as it should be.
Food Safety Tips
There are, of course, some tips that can help aging parents and other seniors maintain a good food safety profile. The following are just a few of such tips:
- Keep it clean. This is the most basic, but in some ways most important, tip. The cleaner the food and the food preparation and storage areas, the less chance of foodborne illness. That means that one needs to wash hands before preparing (and any time they get dirty while preparing) food. The counters, cutting boards, and other surfaces used to prepare food need to be kept very clean as well. And so do the refrigerators, breadboxes, and cabinets where food is stored.
- Don’t thaw on the counter. When thawing frozen meat, don’t just leave it out on the counter; it can attract bacteria rather quickly. Instead, thaw it in the refrigerator or leave it in a bowl of cold water. Once thawed, cook it right away.
- Keep the refrigerator cold. Foods in the refrigerator need to be kept at a temperature of 40 degrees or below; the freezer needs to be kept at 0 degrees.
- Watch perishables. Perishable items should not be kept out of the refrigerator for longer than 2 hours — and if it is above 90 degrees, no longer than one hour. If perishables are kept out longer than these times, they should be thrown away.
- Warm is not hot. Many people believe that keeping food warm after it has been cooked will prevent it from attracting bacteria. In fact, bacteria can congregate at any temperature between 40 degrees and 140 degrees. (That is the temperature of the food, which is generally much lower than the temperature of an oven setting.) Use a food thermometer to determine the temperature.
One other thing for aging parents to remember: sometimes a person can become ill very soon after ingesting food that contains bacteria or other pathogens, but in many cases it may be several days before any signs of illness appear.