Food poisoning dangers: Preventing food-borne illness in seniors

BHC food Safety for seniors main.jpg We use sight, smell and taste to tell us when food has gone bad. When these senses start to fade, it can be harder to tell if food is no longer edible.

When these senses start to fade with age, it puts seniors at greater risk of food poisoning.

Why are seniors more vulnerable to food poisoning?

  • Seniors may be unable to smell or taste when food has gone bad.
  • Poor vision can leave them unable to read sell-by dates.
  • Even if they can read the expiration or sell-by dates they are less likely to respect them, instead relying on their senses.
  • Because their immune system and digestive flora are weaker, they are less able to fight off the bacteria that grow in spoiled food.

And food poisoning is dangerous for anyone, but seniors are at a heightened risk for complications. Seniors can more easily become dehydrated through vomiting and diarrhea. Food-borne illnesses can also make seniors weakened by bacteria and dehydration vulnerable to flare-ups of chronic conditions.

Some seniors are resistant to the waste of throwing out expired food and may argue with you that it is still edible. If keeping bad food becomes a habit, or they are hoarding expired food in other rooms of the house, it may be a sign of a cognitive disorder.

How can you help prevent food poisoning?

  • Plan times when you can take everything out of the refrigerator, freezer, pantry and cabinets to ensure you are getting a fresh start.
  • Check the dates on food packaging and throw out expired food.
  • Open jars and bottles to smell and taste their contents. Open containers often turn before the "sell by" date. And, it a product has been opened and left on the counter overnight before being put back in the refrigerator, it may be spoiled.
  • Emphasize the importance of following sell-by dates.
  • Talk about the importance of thoroughly cooking foods – even prepackaged and frozen foods – and adequately reheating leftovers.
  • Make sure seniors feel food secure and know that they will have enough to eat. A fear of going hungry can prompt seniors to keep and eat food that should be thrown away.
  • Check the kitchen and pantry for foods that have been recalled.
  • Make sure counters and other preparation surfaces are being wiped down with hot, soapy water or anti-bacterial cleaners after use.

Preventing foodborne illnesses in the home may not be technically challenging, but it does rely on constant upkeep. Make sure your senior has the support they need to keep a healthier, cleaner, well-stocked kitchen.