Every year, foodborne illnesses, commonly referred to as food poisoning, affect millions of people. These illnesses can cause serious health problems for older adults. Seniors who come into contact with contaminated food often stay sicker longer and are hospitalized longer than younger adults.
Elaine Austin, Executive Director at Provident Village at Creekside in Smyrna, GA, speaks up about the prevalence of foodborne illness and the importance of eating safely. “Common reasons for food poisoning today include eating out more often, longer shipping distances and new kinds of pesticides and resistant bacteria,” says Austin. “However, many cases occur in our own kitchens. Although most older adults have cooked their whole lives, some, like recent widowers for example, might not be as experienced in preparing their own meals.
“As age makes us more vulnerable to illness, seniors and their caregivers should take extra precautions to enjoy eating safely.”
Safety Risks to Older Adults
Although a foodborne illness can affect anyone, seniors are at an increased risk when it comes to eating contaminated food. According to NIH SeniorHealth, this is due to physical changes that occur with age, such as:
- Less production of stomach acid, which makes it harder to kill consumed bacteria
- Slower digestion, which lets bacteria in the body longer
- Changes in smell and taste, which make it difficult to notice when food has spoiled
Symptoms of foodborne illness include upset stomach, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and flu-like fever and aches. Foodborne illness is often mistaken for another kind of illness, but it’s important to pay attention in case the food poisoning is caused by a bad habit, such as failure to wash hands.
How to Eat Safely and Avoid Contamination
Eating safely is a key part of staying well. Not only is it important to carefully prepare and store food to keep from getting ill, but to make sure you are getting the most nutrients from your meals. Fortunately, establishing simple yet vital habits can help keep seniors healthy and safe from food contamination.
To ensure safe eating, seniors or their caregivers should:
- Check product dates – Always check the expiration date on packaged foods before eating or cooking. Throw away expired or rotten food without tasting it.
- Avoid raw meats – Older adults can be increasingly sensitive to raw or undercooked meats. Avoid foods that contain raw meat or eggs, such as cookie dough or Caesar salad dressing.
- Keep it clean – Be sure to wash hands, surfaces and produce before cooking or eating. A clean kitchen can help eliminate sources of bacteria, especially when handling raw meat and eggs.
- Separate food – It’s important to keep raw food separate from cooked food while preparing a meal. Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and ready-to-eat food, and never place cooked food on the same dish as raw meat.
- Cook to safe temperatures – When cooking meat, pay attention to cooking times and temperatures for the kind of food you’re preparing. Use a meat thermometer to be sure meat is thoroughly cooked before consuming.
- Chill promptly – Be sure to refrigerate leftover food shortly after cooking. Any cooked food that is left at room temperature for longer than two hours has a high risk of carrying bacteria and should be thrown away.
- If you do get sick – If you think you have a foodborne illness from eating contaminated food, contact your doctor and follow any directions. Preserve the food in question (by freezing and labeling it) along with any packaging or containers to help identify the contaminated ingredient. Report the product to USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline or the FDA. If you became ill at a restaurant, contact your local health department.
By following safety measures such as these, seniors can avoid foodborne illness and infections and can continue to enjoy cooking and eating safely.
An Unforgettable Dining Experience
Enjoying delicious, healthy meals is part of vibrant living at Provident Village at Creekside. Austin states, “Our residents and their guests have an unforgettable dining experience three times a day. Under the direction of our Executive Chef, a trained team of experts plans, prepares and presents meals of culinary excellence. We use fresh, local ingredients to ensure quality taste and safe eating.
“Our talented chef can adapt any meal to meet the dietary restrictions and preferences of each resident. Because our team is trained specifically for serving senior living, they know how to pack meals full of flavor and nutrients to satisfy the senses and provide seniors with the vitamins and nutrients they need to stay healthy.
“Eating well is just one of the many ways residents of Provident Village enjoy an active, wellness-focused lifestyle. In every facet of our community, from dining to daily programs, we cater our care style and services to meet the needs and preferences of those who live here.”
Live Vibrantly! at Provident Village at Creekside
At Provident Village at Creekside, we believe vibrant days ensure bright tomorrows, so we’ve created a community where seniors, quite simply, Live Vibrantly! Whether it’s in our Assisted Living Community or Memory Care Neighborhood, each day we celebrate the individuality and strengths of each resident.
At Provident Village, to Live Vibrantly! means that days are filled with joy, vitality, growth and security. It means residents are socially active and personally empowered, with access to the personalized care and support they need to live fully. It means residing in a community where intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual and physical care are seamlessly integrated into everyday life.
Our compassionate Care Partners dedicate each day to enriching the lives of our residents. They customize the level of attention and activities to each resident’s specific needs and abilities. Our living environments are warm and inviting, with comfortable furnishings, beautiful fixtures and natural elements that bring the outdoors inside.