One of the privileges of growing older is eating whatever you want right? Well, while this may be our attitude to life, it is unfortunate that we actually need to be more careful. Certain foods may contain harmful bacteria that won’t make the general population sick but can be a problem for the elderly (as well as for very young children, pregnant women, and those with chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems).
No one has established a given age for older adults to avoid certain foods. Age-related decline in health—and thus, the body’s ability to kill bacteria in food—varies from person to person. According to the FDA, however that most adults 75 years and older lack the stomach acid that can kill harmful bacteria. According to foodsafety.gov in the USA, elderly people exhibit the following physiological changes as they age:
These factors may impact on our ability to deal with foodborne illness compared to younger people.
While I am sure you don’t “feel” old, you should consider yourself “at-risk” if you are very underweight, have an accumulation of chronic diseases, or take a number of different medications. All of those circumstances are evidence of a weakened or declining immune system. If you’re getting more infections than you used to get, or taking longer to get over them, that’s a sign too.
So, what can you do?
Step 1: Watch what you eat
As you get on, there are some foods that may pose a higher risk and could be avoided:
Step 2: Watch how you handle your food
It’s never too late to start practicing food safety in your home. If you are 65 or older, or prepare food for someone who is, the FDA suggests the following four steps:
Clean: Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces often. Harmful bacteria can spread and survive in many places.
Separate: Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can spread illness-causing bacteria to ready-to-eat foods, so keep them separate from cooked foods. Always store them at the lowest shelf in your refrigerator to avoid dripping.
Cook: Food is safely cooked only when the internal temperature is high enough to kill germs that can make you sick. If you reheat food, make sure you do so thoroughly and rather let the food cool down before eating.
Chill: Refrigerate promptly. Bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest between 4°C and 60°C.
These two steps can go a long way in making sure you don’t let unsafe food get in your way of a good game of golf or bridge.