Protecting Elders-Food Safety Basics

By Beth Scholer, CC, CDM, CFP

September is National Food Safety Education Month.

This is a great opportuinty to learn how following a few simple steps can protect our elders from the risks of foodborne illness, sometimes called food poisoning.

Its important to understand why adults 65 and older are at increased risk for illness from foodborne illness. As adults age, the body systems go through changes. For example, food takes longer to be digested, allowing bacteria time to grow in the intestinal system. The stomach also produces less acid which may allow for bacteria to grow. The liver and kidneys may not be able to rid the body of pathogens or toxins. Other chronic conditions like cancer , arthritis, heart disease or diabetes and medications used to treat these conditions can reduce the effectiveness of the immune system.

Serious Consequences

Food safety is something that everyone should take seriously. If foodborne illness is contracted, it is more likely to cause hospitalization or even death with the elderly population. Even mild cases are uncomfortable and can be avoided.

Follow the 4 Steps of Food Safety to protect elders and others whom may be at risk for foodborne illness.

Clean-Hands and Surfaces

  • Wash hands, wear an apron, keep fingernails clean and trimmed, pull back long hair and remove jewelry to keep bacteria away from hands and surfaces.
  • Always start with a clean work area.
  • Clean as you go-wash, rinse and air dry all dishes and surfaces.
  • Wash dish cloths and towels in the washing machine using hot water and a bleach-containing detergent.
  • Read the labels on kitchen cleaning products-rinse if necessary.

Separate-Don’t Cross Contaminate

  • Separate meat, poultry, fish and eggs from other foods in the grocery cart and refrigerator.
  • Use one cutting board for raw foods and another for ready-to-eat foods. Wash between each use.
  • Wash utensils (plates, knives, cutting boards) in between raw or ready-to-eat foods.
  • Don’t wash meat before it is cooked-washing spreads bacteria all around the kitchen.

Cook Food Correctly

  • Cook to the correct internal temperature.
  • Use a food thermometer to check for doneness.
  • Keep cooked food above 140°F while serving.
  • Reheat all foods to 165°F, especially when using the microwave.
  • Heat hot dogs, deli meat and bologna to steaming hot (165°F) before serving to elders.

Chill-Refrigerate Promptly

  • Keep refrigerators below 40°F to discourage bacterial growth.
  • Get cold food into the refrigerator within 2 hours.
  • Cool leftover foods to room temperature before storing in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Never thaw or marinate food at room temperature.
  • Keep leftover foods up to 4 days, or freeze for later.

Everyone should enjoy safe food. Practice these simple habits to protect yourself and those you care for.

Chef Beth Scholer is certified by the American Culinary Federation and Association of Nutrition and Foodservice Professionals. She is a food scientist, culinary instructor, author and founder of Caregivers Kitchen. She can be reached at


U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Food Safety for Older Adults. HHS, No Date. Web. 24 Aug. 2015.

Scholer, B. (2015) Culinary Skills for Caregivers. Lakewood, CA: Avid Readers Publishing Group.

Photo Credits:
Food and Drug Administration