March 18, 2022
Reading Time 6 min.

5 Important Tips About Food Safety for Handlers and Caregivers

There are many things to learn about food safety for handlers that we can apply as caregivers. 

Seniors are often at high risk of food poisoning, along with pregnant women, young children, and those with chronic diseases. 

To prevent this, we must continue to educate ourselves to keep our seniors safe. 

Why food safety is important for seniors 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 48 million people in the US get sick annually because of food-borne illnesses. 

But adults aged 65 and older are more likely to experience hospitalizations and death from such disease.

Seniors have weakened immune systems. And the majority are taking multiple medicines, which affect the stomach lining.

Older adults also suffer from chronic health conditions like diabetes, kidney disease, or arthritis.

About 80% of seniors in the US have at least one chronic health condition. And this makes them less capable of fighting off food borne pathogens.

Seniors also suffer from slower metabolism, and bacteria become harder to remove from the body.

Our vision, smell, and taste functions also deteriorate.

An older person may not discern the off-putting tastes or scents. And sometimes, even mold growing on the side of the bread can be challenging to see.

Another major concern is those seniors suffering from degenerative diseases, like Alzheimer's.

The cognitive function here becomes impaired. And it makes them less able to manage around the house.

Deficits, especially in episodic memory, contribute to food safety handling mistakes. 

They may forget to check their fridge regularly. And this increases the risk of spoiled food not being thrown away.

They forget to turn off the water or oven, repeat or miss doses of medications. Or even store hazardous food items in their refrigerator. 

It's for all these reasons why food safety is important. 

Plus, seniors with Alzheimer's are more at risk from safety hazards in certain areas, like the kitchen.

To prevent dangerous situations, read more about kitchen safety tips here.

What are high-risk foods for the elderly? 

High-risk foods are more prone to getting spoiled because of improper cooking or unsuitable storage conditions. 

The risk these foods pose also depends on where the food comes from and how it’s processed.

Plus, they are most likely to contain harmful bacteria or viruses.

As identified by CDC, eight known pathogens account for most foodborne illnesses in the US.

But the most common pathogens affecting older adults are Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E.coli O157:H7

So here’s a list of high-risk food where you are most likely to find these pathogens:

  • Raw or undercooked meat or poultry
  • Any raw or undercooked fish or shellfish
  • Food containing raw or undercooked seafood, e.g., sashimi, found in some sushi or ceviche 
  • Partially cooked seafood, such as shrimp, and crab
  • Unpasteurized (raw) milk
  • Foods that contain raw/ undercooked eggs, such as homemade Caesar salad dressings, raw cookie dough, or eggnog
  • Raw sprouts (alfalfa, bean, or any other sprout)
  • Unwashed fresh vegetables, including lettuce/ salads
  • Soft cheeses made from unpasteurized (raw) milk, such as Feta, Brie, Camembert, Blue-veined and Queso fresco
  • Hot dogs, deli, and luncheon meats that have not been reheated to 165°F
  • Deli salads prepared without preservatives in a deli-type store or restaurant
  • Unpasteurized, refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads

Contrary to popular belief, undercooked meat is not the main source of food illness. 

The CDC reports that the healthiest foods, fruits, and vegetables, account for 46% of all "outbreaks of food illness." 

Leafy vegetables like cabbage and spinach were responsible for the majority of illnesses. 

And most were caused by norovirus, which is spread to produce from water contaminated by feces. 

Further, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), safe food handling and storage helps maintain food quality.

Many things can affect how bacteria or other harmful pathogens grow on your food. 

It includes the refrigerator temperature or amount of time left in the refrigerator.

Here’s a time limit guideline that will help keep refrigerated food safe to eat.

5 rules for food safety for handlers and caregivers 

Foodborne pathogens are sneaky. 

Foods that smell, taste, and look fine can contain disease-causing bacteria or viruses. 

Fortunately, the World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a health promotion campaign centered on five food safety tips to help prevent and manage food poisoning. 

Here are the five rules for food safety for handlers and caregivers. 

Keep Clean

Dangerous microorganisms are widely found in water, soil, animals, and people. 

They're most likely carried on hands, wiping utensils and clothes. 

And they can spread even with the slightest contact causing infection.

So, remember to wash hands before handling, during food preparation, and after going to the toilet.

Clean and sanitize all surfaces and equipment used for food preparation. 

And protect kitchen areas from bugs, insects, and other animals.

Separate raw and cooked food

Raw meat, poultry, and seafood, has dangerous microorganisms. 

Most likely, these microorganisms are transferred onto other foods during preparation and storage.

So separate the raw meat, seafood, and poultry from other foods. 

Use separate utensils and equipment, like knives or cutting boards when handling raw foods.

And keep raw and cooked foods separate in containers.

Cook Thoroughly

Proper cooking eliminates nearly all harmful bacteria. According to studies, food cooked to 160°F can help ensure it’s safe for consumption.

So cook and reheat meals thoroughly, especially poultry, meat, and seafood. 

Soups and stews should be brought up to a boiling point.

And make sure that juices are clear, not pink for meat and poultry. 

Keep Food at Safe Temperatures

Cooked food should not be left out for more than 2 hours at room temperature. 

Refrigerate all cooked and perishable food promptly (ideally 40°F).

Prepared food should be kept at more than 140°F before serving. And it not be stored too long in the fridge. 

And frozen foods should not be thawed at room temperature. 

Use safe water and ingredients

Hazardous bacteria and chemicals can be found in raw resources like water and ice. 

Some toxic chemicals may also form in moldy or damaged foods. To avoid this, make sure to choose ingredients wisely. 

meal prep with food safety for handlers

Always choose wholesome and fresh foods. Avoid unpasteurized milk and cheeses.

Vegetables and fruits should be washed, especially if eaten raw. Do not eat or use food beyond their expiration dates.

What to do for food poisoning instances

The FDA recommends following the Foodborne Illness Action Plan if food poisoning is suspected.

The first is to preserve the foods you think have caused the infection. 

Save the packaging materials like cartons, cans, or bags. Also, write down all the food consumed for the past weeks and where it was bought.

Lastly, it's best to call your doctor.

Symptoms of food poisoning vary depending on the bacteria or virus that caused the infection. This can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. 

Some seniors also experience loss of appetite and high fever or chills. 

But these usually go away on their own in about two days with no medical interventions. 

Dehydration is another major complication of food poisoning. It can be fatal because of fluid loss.

There are several ways to manage food poisoning cases.

Treatment focuses on reducing the symptoms and preventing further complications.

The main intervention and prevention strategy is to rest and replace lost fluids and electrolytes.

Individuals can do this by drinking plenty of fluids, preferably with oral rehydration salts like Gatorade.

It's also advisable to sip small amounts of water or ice cubes to melt in the mouth. It would help ensure fluid intake, even if vomiting persists. 

As the condition improves, bland foods like bananas, plain rice, boiled potatoes, and crackers are suggested.

Doctors also advise medications like antidiarrheal and antiemetic (anti-vomiting). Older adults are more likely to get hemolytic uremic syndrome, an illness caused by E. coli damaging the lining of the kidney's blood vessels.

But consult your doctor before taking anti-diarrhea medication, as some infections may worsen.

It can also cause urinary tract problems and kidney diseases. 

Final Thoughts

Tips about food safety for handlers and caregivers are crucial in helping seniors who live alone.

As older adults age, they become more vulnerable to bacteria and viruses, especially food.

But knowing how to handle safely and prepare foods is an essential step in helping our seniors eat right and avoid infection.

That's all for today.

Take care, keep mom safe and have a great day!


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