Skip to main content



Food Safety for Seniors

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Your immune system weakens with age, putting you at risk for food borne illnesses in your golden years. That's why it's especially important to be careful about how you cook and store food. Though you have probably been cooking for decades, there are new bacteria and new strains of old bacteria that require additional measures to ensure safety.

Any food can carry microorganisms or chemical agents that may cause illness when eaten. Safe food handling practices can prevent growth of bacteria to reduce your chance of getting sick. Just follow four basic rules to keep your kitchen and your family safe: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill.

Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often

Bacteria can be anywhere the kitchen, including on cutting boards, utensils, sponges and counter tops. Wash utensils, equipment, countertops and other work surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after working with food. Wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom, blowing your nose or handling pets. Cleanliness every step of the way keeps bacteria at bay.

Separate: Don't cross-contaminate

Cross-contamination means that bacteria can be spread from one kind of food to another. It is very important to clean equipment and work surfaces between food products and before they touch prepared foods. Rinse utensils, work surfaces, cutting boards, meat grinders, blenders, and meat slicers with a bleach solution to prevent one food from spreading bacteria to another.

Cook: Heat food to proper temperatures

Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it's not there. You can't accurately judge how well-done your food is by looking at the color. Use a food thermometer to be sure you have heated the food enough to destroy harmful bacteria.

Chill: Keep it cool

Did you know food bacteria can double every 20 minutes? The longer food sits out, the more likely it is to grow harmful bacteria. Cold temperatures keep most bacteria from multiplying. Set your refrigerator no higher than 40 degrees the freezer to zero.

Bacteria, viruses, and parasites grow very slowly at low temperatures, multiply rapidly in mid-range temperatures, and are killed at high temperatures. For safety, store perishable foods in cool temperatures to inhibit bacterial growth. Cook foods such as meat, seafood and egg products to temperatures high enough to kill harmful microorganisms. Always use a food thermometer to prevent undercooking, which puts you at risk for food borne illnesses.

This article is made possible by Older Americans Act dollars from the Land of the Dancing Sky Area Agency on Aging. The Senior LinkAge Line® makes it easy for older adults and their families to find services in their community. Call 1-800-333-2433 to speak with an information specialist.