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Safe Food HandlingSeniors Need Wisdom on Food Safety

An old adage states, “With age, comes wisdom.” Hopefully that wisdom includes lots of good food safety information. Why? As we mature, our bodies change. Seniors become more at-risk for illness and, once ill, it can take them longer to recover.

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Knowledge of safe food handling is needed to help seniors stay healthy. It’s important to understand the effect of pathogens and other microorganisms on elderly bodies. The best preventative understands the safeguards necessary to remain free from foodborne illness.

Some of the changes seniors undergo lessen the body’s ability to combat bacteria. For example, there is a decrease in stomach acid secretion, which is a natural defense against ingested bacteria. And over time, the immune system may become less adept in ridding the body of bacteria.

Too, 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. By knowing how the body changes and using safe food handling techniques, seniors can easily protect them and reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

Some seniors are homebound and must rely on delivered food. Others are new widowers with little cooking experience. Whether seniors are part of these groups or experienced cooks, adhering to the following up-to-date food safety guidelines is just plain good wisdom.

Guidelines for Safe Food Handling

Keep it safe, refrigerate or freeze. Refrigerate or freeze all perishable foods. Refrigerator temperature should be 40 °F or less; freezer temperature should be 0 °F or less. Use a refrigerator/freezer thermometer to check the temperatures.

Never thaw food at room temperature. Always thaw food in the refrigerator, or in cold water or in a microwave. When thawing in the microwave, you must cook the food immediately. Wash hands with warm soapy water before preparing food.

Wash hands, utensils, cutting boards and other work surfaces after contact with raw meat and poultry. This helps prevent cross contamination.

Never leave perishable food out of refrigeration over two hours. If room temperature is above 90 °F food should not be left out over 1 hour. This would include items such as take-out foods, leftovers from a restaurant meal, and meals-on wheels deliveries.

Do not eat raw or undercooked meat, poultry, fish, or eggs. The most important thing is to use a food thermometer to be sure foods have reached a safe minimum internal temperature.

Cook foods to the following safe minimum internal temperatures as measured with a food thermometer:

  • Beef, veal, and lamb steaks, roasts, and chops may be cooked to 145 °F.
  • All cuts of pork to 160 °F.
  • Ground beef, veal and lamb to 160 °F.
  • Egg dishes, casseroles to 160 °F.
  • Leftovers to 165 °F.
  • Stuffed poultry is not recommended. Cook stuffing separately to 165 °F.
  • All poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.

When reheating foods in the microwave, cover and rotate or stir foods once or twice during cooking and check the food in several spots with a food thermometer.

Foods Purchased Or Delivered Hot

Eating Within Two Hours? Pick up or receive the food HOT…and enjoy eating within two hours.

Not Eating Within Two Hours? Keeping food warm is not enough. Harmful bacteria can multiply between 40° and 140 °F.

Set oven temperature high enough to keep the hot food at 140 °F or above. Check internal temperature of food with a meat thermometer. Covering with foil will help keep the food moist.

Eating Much Later? It’s not a good idea to try and keep the food hot longer than two hours. Food will taste better and be safely stored if you:

  • Place in shallow containers.
  • Divide large quantities into smaller portions.
  • Cover loosely and refrigerate immediately.
  • Reheat thoroughly when ready to eat.

Reheating? Reheat food thoroughly to temperature of 165 °F or until hot and steaming. In the microwave oven, cover food and rotate so it heats evenly. Allow standing time for more even heating.

Consult your microwave owner’s manual for recommended cooking time, power level and standing time. Inadequate heating can contribute to illness.

Foods Purchased Or Delivered Cold

Keep Cold Food Cold. Eat or refrigerate immediately. Cold food should be held at 40 °F or colder.{mosimage}

The Two-Hour Rule. Perishable food should not be at room temperature longer than two hours. Discard food, which has been left at room temperature longer than two hours. For room temperatures above 90 °F, discard food after one hour.

Other Helpful Links:

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service

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