To Your Health!
Food Safety for Seniors
Seniors have a lifetime of experience shopping, preparing and eating food. And fortunately, Americans
enjoy one of the safest most healthful food supplies in the world. But a lot has changed over your lifetime-
from the way food is produced and distributed, to the way it is prepared and eaten.
What is also changing is your ability to fight-off dangerous bacteria that may invade your body through
the food you eat.
The good news is that well-known saying -- "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" -- remains
true. Preventing the growth of dangerous microorganisms in food is the key to reducing the millions of
illnesses and thousands of deaths each year.
You may already know a lot about how to prevent illness from mishandled food. Federal studies show
that older adults do a better job of handling food safely than any other age group. Even so, when it
comes to staying safe, you can never know too much.
This publication will help you learn more about what many of us call "food poisoning" -- the experts call it
foodborne illness. We'll look at:
- How Times Have Changed
- Why Some People Face Special Risks
- Recognizing Foodborne Illness
- Food Safety at Home
- Special Foods, Special Advice
- Eating Out, Bringing In
- A Cooking Temperature Chart
- Refrigerator Storage Chart
1. How Times Have Changed:
A lot has changed over your lifetime -- including the way food is
produced and distributed. It used to be that food was produced close
to where people lived. Many people shopped daily, and prepared and
ate their food at home. Eating in restaurants was saved for special
occasions. Today, food in your local grocery store comes from all over
the world. And nearly 50 percent of the money we spend on food goes
to buy food that others prepare, like "carry out" and restaurant meals.
Another thing that has changed is our awareness and knowledge of
illnesses that can be caused by harmful bacteria in food:
Through science, we have discovered new and dangerous bacteria
and viruses that can be found in food -- bacteria we didn't even know
about years ago.
Science has also helped us identify illnesses that can be caused by
bacteria and viruses in food -- illnesses we didn't recognize before.
Today, for instance, we realize that some illnesses, like some kinds of
arthritis, can be traced to foodborne illness.
One of the other things that we know today is that some people --
including people over 65 -- can be more susceptible to getting sick
from bacteria in food.
But seniors who take care to handle food safely can help keep
2. Why Some People Face Special Risks:
Some people are more likely to get sick from harmful bacteria that can be found in food. And
once they are sick, they face the risk of more serious health problems, even death.
A variety of people may face these special risks -- pregnant women and young children, people
with chronic illnesses and weakened immune systems and older adults, including people over
Why are older adults more susceptible to foodborne illness?
Everyone's health is different, including his or her ability to fight off disease. But immune
systems weaken as we age. In addition, stomach acid also decreases as we get older -- and
stomach acid plays an important role in reducing the number of bacteria in our intestinal tracts
-- and the risk of illness.
Plus underlying illnesses such as diabetes, some cancer treatments, and kidney disease may
increase a person's risk of foodborne illness.
3. Recognizing Foodborne Illness:
It can be difficult for people to recognize when harmful bacteria in food have made them sick. For instance, it's hard to tell if food
is unsafe, because you can't see, smell or taste the bacteria it may contain.
Sometimes people think their foodborne illness was caused by their last meal. In fact, there is a wide range of time between
eating food with harmful bacteria and the onset of illness. Usually foodborne bacteria take 1 to 3 days to cause illness. But you
could become sick anytime from 20 minutes to 6 weeks after eating some foods with dangerous bacteria. It depends on a variety
of factors, including the type of bacteria in the food.
Sometimes foodborne illness is confused with other types of illness. If you get foodborne illness, you might be sick to your
stomach, vomit, or have diarrhea. Or, symptoms could be flu-like with a fever and headache, and body aches. The best thing to
do is check with your doctor. And if you become ill after eating out, also call your local health department so they can investigate.
Foodborne illness can be dangerous, but is often easy to prevent. By following the basic rules of food safety, you can help
prevent foodborne illness for yourself and others.
4. Food Safety at Home
Just follow four basic rules -- Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill -- and you will Fight BAC!® (bacteria
that can cause foodborne illness.) Fight BAC!® is a national education campaign designed to teach
everyone about food safety. Keep these Fight BAC!® rules in mind. Tell your friends and family and
grandchildren to join the team and get them to be "BAC-Fighters" too.
Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often
Bacteria can be present throughout the kitchen, including on cutting boards, utensils, sponges and
counter tops. Here's how to Fight BAC!®
Wash your hands with warm water and soap before and after handling food and after using the
bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets.
Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot water and soap after preparing
each food item and before you go on to the next food. Periodically, kitchen sanitizers (including a
solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water) can be used for
Once cutting boards (including plastic, non-porous, acrylic and wooden boards) become excessively
worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves, you should replace them.
Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels, wash them often in
the hot cycle of your washing machine.
Also Important: Rinse raw produce in water. Don't use soap or other detergents. If necessary -- and
appropriate -- use a small vegetable brush to remove surface dirt.
Separate: Don't cross-contaminate
Cross-contamination is the scientific word for how bacteria can be spread from one food product to
another. This is especially true when handling raw meat, poultry and seafood, so keep these foods
and their juices away from foods that aren't going to be cooked. Here's how to Fight BAC!®
Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods in your grocery-shopping cart and in your
If possible, use a different cutting board for raw meat, poultry and seafood products.
Always wash cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot, soapy water after they come in contact with
raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and unwashed fresh produce.
Place cooked food on a clean plate. If you put cooked food on the unwashed plate that held raw food
(like meat, poultry or seafood), bacteria from the raw food could contaminate your cooked food.
Cook: Cook to proper temperatures
Food safety experts agree that foods are safely cooked when they are heated for a long enough time
and at a high enough temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness. The best
way to Fight BAC!® is to:
5. Special Foods/Special Advice
Some foods may contain bacteria that can be especially harmful to older adults and cause serious illness. This
section highlights foods older adults are advised not to eat. It also explains important safe food handling tips for
some ready-to-eat foods commonly found in the refrigerated section of your grocery store.
Foods Seniors are Advised Not to Eat
To reduce risks of illness from bacteria in food, seniors (and others who face special risks of illness) are
advised not to eat:
Raw fin fish and shellfish, including oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops.
Hot dogs and luncheon meats, unless they are reheated until steaming hot.
Raw or unpasteurized milk or soft cheeses (such as Feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, and Mexican-style
cheese) unless they are labeled "made with pasteurized milk".
Refrigerated pates or meat spreads. Canned or shelf-stable pates and meat spreads may be eaten.
Refrigerated smoked seafood unless it is contained in a cooked dish, such as a casserole. Refrigerated smoked
seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, or mackerel, is often labeled as "nova-style," "lox,"
"kippered," "smoked," or "jerky." These products are found in the refrigerator section or sold at deli counters of
grocery stores and delicatessens. Canned or shelf-stable smoked seafood may be eaten.
Raw or lightly cooked egg or egg products containing raw eggs such as salad dressings, cookie or cake batter,
sauces, and beverages such as egg nog. (Foods made from commercially pasteurized eggs are safe to eat.)
Raw meat or poultry.
Raw sprouts (alfalfa, clover, and radish)
Unpasteurized or untreated fruit or vegetable juice (These juices will carry a warning label.)
New information on food safety is constantly emerging. Recommendations and precautions are updated as
scientists learn more about preventing foodborne illness. You need to be aware of and follow the most current
information on food safety. See the information at the end of this document for ways to learn about food safety
Reheating ready-to-eat foods:
It's important to reheat some refrigerated foods that you buy Pre-cooked. That's because these foods can
become re-contaminated with bacteria after they have been processed and packaged at the plant.
These foods include: hot dogs, luncheon meats, cold cuts, and other deli-style meat and poultry products that
are kept refrigerated.
Reheat these foods until they are steaming hot. If you cannot reheat these foods, do not eat them.
Wash your hands with warm, soapy water after handling these types of ready-to-eat foods. (Wash for at least
20 seconds.) Also wash cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot, soapy water. Thorough washing helps
eliminate any bacteria that might get on your hands or other surfaces from the food before it's been reheated.
6. Eating Out, Bringing In
Let's face it. Sometimes it's just easier and more enjoyable to let someone else do the cooking. And for today's
older adults there are many eating options. All of these options, however, do have food safety implications that
you need to be aware of.
Bringing In: Complete Meals to Go and Home Delivered Meals
When you want to eat at home but don't feel like cooking or aren't able to, where do you turn?
Many convenience foods, including complete meals to go, are increasingly popular.
Purchased from grocery stores, deli stores or restaurants, some meals are hot and some are cold.
Ordering home delivered meals from restaurants or restaurant-delivery services is an option many consumers
like to take advantage of.
And of course, for those who qualify, there are programs like Meals on Wheels that provide a ready-prepared
meal each day.
Hot or cold ready-prepared meals are perishable and can cause illness when mishandled. Proper handling is
essential to ensure the food is safe.
The 2-Hour Rule
Harmful bacteria can multiply in the "Danger Zone" (between 40 and 140°F). So remember the 2-hour rule.
Discard any perishable foods left at room temperature longer than 2 hours.
(When temperatures are above 90°F, discard food after 1 hour!)
Putting the 2-hour rule into action:
HOT FOODS: When you purchase hot cooked food, keep it hot. Eat and enjoy your food within 2 hours to
prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying.
If you are not eating within 2 hours-and you want to keep your food hot--keep your food in the oven set at a
high enough temperature to keep the food at or above 140°F. (Use a food thermometer to check the
temperature.) Side dishes, like stuffing, must also stay hot in the oven. Covering food will help keep it moist.
However, your cooked food will taste better if you don't try to keep it in the oven for too long. For best taste,
refrigerate the food and then reheat when you are ready to eat. Here's how:
Divide meat or poultry into small portions to refrigerate or freeze.
Refrigerate or freeze gravy, potatoes, and other vegetables in shallow containers.
Remove stuffing from whole cooked poultry and refrigerate.
COLD FOODS should be eaten within 2 hours or refrigerated or frozen for eating at another time.
You may wish to reheat your meal, whether it was purchased hot and then refrigerated or purchased cold
Heat the food thoroughly to 165°F.
Bring gravy to a rolling boil.
If heating in a microwave oven, cover food and rotate the dish so the food heats evenly and doesn't leave "cold
spots" that could harbor bacteria. Consult your owner's manual for complete instructions.
Whether you're eating out at a restaurant, a Senior Center, or a fast food diner, it can be both a safe and
enjoyable experience. All food service establishments are required to follow food safety guidelines set by State
and local health departments. But you can also take actions to insure your food's safety. Keep these Fight
BAC!® rules in mind: Clean, Cook, Chill.
Clean: When you go out to eat, look at how clean things are before you even sit down. If it's not up to your
standards, you might want to eat somewhere else.
Cook: No matter where you eat out, always order your food cooked thoroughly to a safe internal temperature.
Remember that foods like meat, poultry, fish, and eggs need to be cooked thoroughly to kill harmful bacteria.
When you're served a hot meal, make sure it's served to you piping hot and thoroughly cooked, and if it's not,
send it back.
Don't eat undercooked or raw foods, such as raw oysters or raw or undercooked eggs. Undercooked or raw
eggs can be a hidden hazard in some foods like Caesar salad, custards and some sauces. If these foods are
made with commercially pasteurized eggs, however, they are safe. If you are unsure about the ingredients in a
particular dish, ask before ordering it.
The Doggie Bag
It seems like meal portions are getting bigger and bigger these days. A lot of people are packing up these
leftovers to eat later. Care must be taken when handling these leftovers. If you will not be arriving home within 2
hours of being served (1 hour if temperatures are above 90°F), it is safer to leave the leftovers at the
Also, remember that the inside of a car can get very warm. Bacteria may grow rapidly, so it is always safer to go
directly home after eating and put your leftovers in the refrigerator.
Some Senior Centers that provide meals do not allow food to be taken away from the site because they know
how easy it is for bacteria to multiply to dangerous levels when food is left unrefrigerated too long. Check with
your center for its policy on taking leftovers home.
Those are the food safety rules-the way you can help yourself and others Fight BAC!®
Just remember: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
If you have questions and you'd like to talk to an expert, please call the following toll-free hotlines:
The Food and Drug Administration Hotline can answer questions about safe handling of seafood, fruits and
vegetables, as well as rules that govern food safety in restaurants and grocery stores. You can reach them by
The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline can answer questions about safe handling of meat and poultry as well as
many other consumer food issues. Call them at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).
Or, on the World Wide Web
Check out the senior food safety web page jointly sponsored by the Food and Drug Administration and AARP at
Federal food safety-including the Food and Drug Administration (www.cfsan.fda.gov) the Food Safety and
Inspection Service (www.fsis.usda.gov) and joint-Federal information at (www.FoodSafety.gov)
Partnership for Food Safety Education at www.fightbac.org
Genwich Life Services LLC
"Successfully guiding multi generational families through life stage planning"
Use a clean food thermometer, which measures the internal temperature of cooked foods, to make sure meat, poultry, ® and
other foods are safely cooked all the way through.
Cook beef, veal, and lamb roasts and steaks to at least 145°F. Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F
or to higher temperatures according to personal preference.
Cook ground beef, where bacteria can spread during processing, to at least 160°F. Check the temperature with a food
Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. Don't use recipes in which eggs remain raw or only partially cooked.
Fish should be opaque and flake easily with a fork.
When cooking in a microwave oven, make sure there are no cold spots in food where bacteria can survive. To do this, cover food,
stir and rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking. (Unless you have a turntable in the microwave.) Use a food
thermometer to make sure foods have reached a safe internal temperature.
If you are reheating food, leftovers should be heated to 165°F. Bring sauces, soup and gravy to a boil.