Health Canada is reminding Canadians of the importance of food safety for older adults.

As we age, it becomes harder for our immune systems to fight off harmful bacteria. This means that older adults can come down with a serious illness if they eat contaminated food. For this reason, it is very important for older adults, and those who prepare food for older adults, to pay close attention to food safety when handling and preparing food.

To minimize the risks of foodborne illness, older adults and caregivers should follow the four key steps to food safety: Cook; Clean; Chill and Separate.

Cook – Always cook food to the safe internal temperatures. You can check this by using a digital food thermometer. Colour alone is not a reliable indicator that meat is safe to eat. Meat can turn brown before all the bacteria are killed.

Clean – Properly clean anything that comes in contact with the food (your hands, kitchen surfaces and utensils, reusable grocery bags, etc.). This will help eliminate bacteria and reduce your risk of foodborne illness. In addition, fruits and vegetables should be washed under running water that is suitable for drinking.

Chill – It is extremely important to keep cold food cold and hot food hot so that your food never reaches the “temperature danger zone,” which is between 4oC and 60oC (40oF and 140oF). Defrosting raw meat, poultry and fish should be done in the refrigerator, in the microwave, or immersed in cold water (replaced every 30 minutes), never at room temperature.

Separate – It is important to always separate your raw foods, such as meat and eggs, from ready-to-eat foods, such as cooked meat and vegetables, to avoid cross-contamination.

Older adults should also pay close attention to what they are eating. Some foods are at a higher risk for foodborne bacteria than others.

  • Avoid non-dried deli meats, such as bologna, roast beef, and turkey breast unless they are fully cooked.
  • Avoid hot dogs straight out of the package. Make sure to cook hot dogs until they are steaming hot before eating them.
  • Don’t eat raw or undercooked meat, poultry, fish or seafood.
  • Avoid refrigerated smoked fish or seafood.
  • Avoid unpasteurized juice, cider and milk.
  • Avoid all soft and semi-soft cheeses made from raw or unpasteurized milk.
  • Avoid refrigerated pâtés and meat spreads.
  • Avoid uncooked foods made from raw or unpasteurized eggs.
  • Avoid raw sprouts such as alfalfa and mung beans.

It is estimated that there are approximately 11 million cases of foodborne illnesses in Canada every year. Many of these cases could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques.