Foodborne Illness

Goodbye Tummy Troubles: 7 Tips for Avoiding It

Foodborne Illness

Did you know that as we age, we become more at risk for foodborne illnesses – also known as food poisoning – especially once we reach our senior years? Several factors, including a change in one’s physical condition, a weakened immune system due to medications, and even aging internal organs, add up to make us more likely to get sick, and stay sick for longer.

In addition, it’s likely that in a senior’s lifetime, there has been substantial change in the way we eat. For example, the number of times people go out to eat has greatly increased in the last 40 years. Also, food found in your grocery store comes from around the globe, and is processed and packaged differently, adding to unknown factors and potential confusion.

Many of us assume that food poisoning comes from the last meal we ate. In reality, foodborne illnesses typically takes 1-3 days to cause illness, although you can get sick anywhere from 20 minutes to even 6 weeks after eating contaminated food. The best line of defense is being aware and taking simple precautions.

Below are 7 steps for increasing your food safety.

1. Wash and clean often!

The simplest way to reduce your chances of getting sick is washing your hands and using plenty of soap for 20 seconds before and after you handle food. Want an easy way to count 20 seconds? Sing the ABCs while you wash. You should also keep your cooking area clean and sanitized; an easy homemade solution is mixing 1 Tbsp bleach with 1 quart water, then rinsing with clean water.

2. Keep them separated.

When storing or preparing food, avoid cross-contamination. Even when putting the food in your shopping cart, keep raw foods like fruit and vegetables away from raw meats (there are often plastic bags hanging from dispensers overhead for holding your raw meats in your shopping cart). When preparing your meals, consider using separate cutting boards (there are even small, color-coded ones available) to designate on for your raw items, and one for your meats.

3. Keep your cool.

Reduce the likelihood of bacteria growth by keeping your refrigerator at 40°F, putting your cold groceries in the fridge right away, and following the 2-hour rule: never leave cold food out on the counter for longer than 2 hours (that means no defrosting meat at room temperature). Pre-sliced fruit and vegetables from the store should be stored in the refrigerator right away as well.

4. Turn up the heat.

Ensure your meats are cooked to safe temperatures by purchasing a simple meat thermometer (you can find them for a few dollars at your local super store). Unfortunately, color is not an accurate indicator of doneness. Be sure to cook steaks and roasts to at least 145°F, ground meat to 160°F, and poultry to at least 165°F. And when reheating food, make sure you heat until it is hot throughout and bubbling. When using the microwave, make sure you rotate the plate during reheating to avoid cold spots that can harbor bacteria.

5. Apply it to take-out, too.

Follow the 2-hour rule when eating take-out or delivery food; if you are reheating, follow the same rules to get it to a bubbling hot temperature throughout, and rotate the plate during reheating in the microwave. If you are taking home leftovers from a restaurant, be sure to refrigerate promptly. Also, keep in mind that certain foods are slightly more “risky” when having some one else prepare them; these include eggs, lunchmeats and hot dogs, soft cheeses, and raw or cold fish like sushi.

6. Check the date.

Be sure to check dates on packages while you are in the store; you don’t want to get home with a food item past its prime. Pre-packaged foods like lunch meat should be refrigerated right away and then thrown away after the package has been open for 3-5 days. When in doubt, throw it out!

7. Don’t miss the sneaky spots.

Bacteria can be especially tricky, lurking in places you don’t easily see. For example, be sure to clean the lids of canned foods before opening, and use paper towels to clean surfaces in your kitchen, rather than bacteria-harboring sponges. Wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly in running water, even the ones whose skin you do not eat.


Visit SeniorAdvisor.com to find reviews, information, and costs of assisted living in Houston and other cities.

Megan Hammons lives in the Central Texas countryside just outside of Austin, pursuing her love for copywriting after a career in high-tech marketing. She is part of a large, diverse family and enjoys spending time with the multiple generations living in her community.

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