- Written by Adam Ghering Adam Ghering
Did you know that 128,000 Americans are hospitalized from food poisoning each year, and it’s estimated that millions more get sick?
It is essential for individuals of every age to prevent food poisoning; however, as we age we become more at risk, and once ill, it can take longer to recover.
Older adults are at an increased risk due to age-related changes to the gastrointestinal tract, underlying chronic conditions (diabetes, cancer, etc.), changes in functioning of organs like the liver and kidney, and side effects caused by medication.
The good news is that the USDA’s four steps to food safety (clean, separate, cook, and chill) can help you prevent food poisoning.
Food poisoning is never fun and can include symptoms such as upset stomach, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and dehydration.
Common pathogens that cause illness in older adults include:
• E. coli from undercooked ground beef, unpasteurized milk and juices, and contaminated raw fruits and vegetables
• Campylobacter from unpasteurized milk; raw or undercooked meat, poultry, or shellfish; and untreated or contaminated water
• Salmonella from raw or undercooked eggs, poultry, or meat; unpasteurized milk, juice, or cheese; and animals (reptiles and birds) and their environment
Avoiding certain foods, or preparing them in a safe manner, can decrease your risk of becoming ill from these pathogens.
Follow the four steps to food safety to make sure you avoid illness:
Clean. Clean surfaces, utensils, and hands with soap and warm water. Wash hands the right way for 20 seconds, and make sure to focus on scrubbing your palms and in between fingers and fingertips.
Wash fruit and vegetables, but do not wash raw meat and poultry. Doing so can cause bacteria to cross-contaminate surfaces throughout the kitchen.
Separate. Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from ready-to-eat foods, fruits, and vegetables. Raw meat juices can contain bacteria that can cross-contaminate ready-to-eat foods.
When shopping, place raw meats in a plastic bag before placing them in your shopping cart. When at home, use one cutting board for fruits and vegetables and a different one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
Cook. Cook foods to a safe internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. You cannot use color alone as an indicator of doneness. Always use a food thermometer to verify meat and poultry are safe to eat.
• Cook raw beef, pork, lamb, and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to 145 degrees F. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming.
• Cook raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to 160 degrees F.
• Cook raw poultry to 165 degrees F.
• Reheat cooked foods to 165 degrees F.
Chill. Refrigerate foods within two hours after cooking or within one hour after cooking if the temperature is 90 degrees F during the summer.
Divide leftovers into small, shallow containers and place in a refrigerator set at 40 degrees F or below.
To learn more about food storage and how to use foods at peak quality while reducing waste, download the free FoodKeeper mobile app for Android and iPhone.
If you have any questions about food safety, you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at (888) MPHotline or (888) 674-6854.
Or you can chat live with a food-safety specialist in English or Spanish at Ask Karen (www.askkaren.gov), available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday. Ask Karen also provides automated food safety information 24/7.
Adam Ghering is a public affairs specialist with the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.