Food Safety on National Senior Health & Fitness Day

National Senior Health and Fitness Day is always set for the last Wednesday in May and is the nation’s largest annual health promotion event for older adults. The common goal for this day: to help keep older adults healthy and  fit – and this importantly includes food safety.

It is very important to protect older adults from foodborne illness and help them understand why certain pathogens are more common for their age group.

As people age, their bodies are less able to combat bacteria. For example, there is a decrease in stomach acid secretion, which is a natural defense against ingested bacteria. Over time, the immune system may become less adept in ridding the body of bacteria.

Moreover, the sense of taste or smell — sometimes affected by medication or illness — may not always sound an alert when meat is spoiled or milk may be sour.

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Food Safety for Older Adults

Adults 65 and older are at a higher risk for hospitalization and death from foodborne illness.  For example, older adults residing in nursing homes are ten times more likely to die from bacterial gastroenteritis than the general population.  As data shows, food safety is particularly important for adults 65 and older.

This increased risk of foodborne illness is because our organs and body systems go through changes as we age. These changes include:

  • The gastrointestinal tract holds on to food for a longer period of time, allowing bacteria to grow.
  • The liver and kidneys may not properly rid our bodies of foreign bacteria and toxins.
  • The stomach may not produce enough acid.  The acidity helps to reduce the number of bacteria in our intestinal tract.  Without proper amounts of acid, there is an increased risk of bacterial growth.
  • Underlying chronic conditions, such as diabetes and cancer, may also increase a person’s risk of foodborne illness.

What Older Adults Can Do

Learn about safety tips for those at increased risk of foodborne illness. Older adults should always follow the four steps:

  • Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often
  • Separate: Separate raw meat and poultry from ready-to-eat foods
  • Cook: Cook food to the right temperatures
  • Chill: Chill raw meat and poultry as well as cooked leftovers promptly (within 2 hours)

More Food Safety Information for Older Adults

Food Safety for Older Adults Brochure (FDA)
A need-to-know guide for those 65 years of age and older.

Seniors Need Wisdom on Food Safety (USDA)
Seniors become more at-risk for foodborne illness and, once ill, it can take them longer to recover.