Food safety for the elderly: What you need to know

Correct food preparation is important for people of any age, but it is even more important for elderly people. Food poisoning can be deadly, and it is more dangerous when suffered by people with other health problems, which is sometimes the case with older people.

Elderly people can suffer more acute symptoms from food poisoning, and their slower immune systems and digestion systems makes it harder to get rid of the bacteria. Elderly people are often less able to tell when food is not safe to eat because their senses of taste and smell are sometimes affected, making them more likely to eat contaminated food.

The good news is that food poisoning is nearly always preventable by practicing correct food storage, handling and preparation.

Food poisoning prevention tips

There are a number of simple steps that you can take to help prevent food poisoning in your elderly relative. Here are some of the most important:

• Always wash your hands before preparing food, and in between handling raw meats and other foods, to prevent cross contamination.

• Follow all the ‘Best Before’ and ‘Use By’ dates on food packaging.

• Throw food out after about three days in the fridge, even if it looks OK to eat.

• When storing food, keep raw meat and seafood away from food that requires no preparation. The best place to keep them is on the lower shelf of the fridge so that they do not drip on any foods below.

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• Rinse vegetables and fruit before eating if you are going to eat them raw. When making a salad, you could also add vinegar to the water when washing the vegetables to add an extra level of protection.

• Avoid eating rare meat and raw fish like sushi. Always make sure meat and fish is cooked through thoroughly.

• When you cook meat, make sure it is hot throughout by using a thermometer. Poultry should be cooked to 180°, and other meats to 160°.

• Do not wash raw meat before cooking it. This is unnecessary because you will kill all the bacteria when you cook the meat, and washing the meat can spread bacteria to other foods in the vicinity.

• Avoid eating unpasteurised milk and cheese, as well as undercooked eggs.
• Store cooked food in the fridge soon after cooking, and always within an hour or so.

For further reading, the NHS has a very good guide to good food hygiene that you can read here.

Spot the symptoms of food poisoning

As well as taking care to avoid food poisoning, you should also look out for the symptoms so that you can react quickly and help to prevent further complications from occurring. Common symptoms of food poisoning include:

• Diarrhoea
• Vomiting
• Nausea
• Fever
• Cramps

If your relative shows signs of these, seek medical attention quickly. They may even need a trip to the hospital.

If you think that food they have eaten is to blame, try to store some in the freezer so that it can be tested later.

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Always keep food safety in mind

Many elderly people are perfectly able to cook for themselves. But as you care for your relative, just make sure that they are storing and preparing food properly. Look out for foods that have gone past their ‘Use By’ dates, and check that they are not storing food for too long in the fridge.

If a care worker looks after your relative, they can also look out for such things. Our care workers can also help to prepare meals with your elderly relative to ensure they are eating healthy and safe meals when you are not there to help them.