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Tips for Avoiding Food Poisoning in Home Care

March 7, 2024

Food poisoning can be a serious health issue for older adults because they have a higher chance of developing complications and a severe illness. Caregivers who provide care for seniors need to be aware of the risks and take steps to prevent food poisoning from happening. 

Here are a few essential tips for protecting senior home care recipients from food-related illnesses.

Why Is Food Poisoning Dangerous for Seniors?

Food poisoning is not just a discomfort; it’s a serious threat to seniors. According to FoodSafety

“Adults aged 65 and older are more likely to be hospitalized or die from foodborne illness. This increased risk of foodborne illness is because organs and body systems go through changes as people age.”

Seniors face these elevated risks because of the following

  • Their immune systems are weaker
  • Their gastrointestinal tracts hold onto food longer, which allows bacteria to grow.
  • Their livers and kidneys may not properly rid the body of foreign bacteria and toxins.
  • Their stomachs may not produce enough acid, and acidity helps to reduce the number of bacteria in the intestinal tract.
  • They may have underlying chronic conditions that increase their risks. 

Finally, if an older adult has trouble keeping up with cooking and cleaning on their own, they are at a greater risk of contracting a foodborne illness. This lack of support underscores the vital role that family caregivers play!

What Causes Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning can be caused by various factors, from harmful bacteria like E.coli and Salmonella to viruses and parasites found in contaminated food or water. The contamination can occur at any point—during production, processing, cooking, and even serving. 

The usual culprits are unsafe handling practices, improper cooking, and poor kitchen hygiene.

Symptoms of Food Poisoning

Food poisoning symptoms can range from mild to severe, and include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Dehydration

Seniors might also experience confusion or weakness, further complicating their condition. Therefore, being vigilant about these symptoms can aid in early detection and treatment, reducing the risk of complications.

When to Go to the ER for Food Poisoning

It’s vital to know when food poisoning requires emergency medical attention. If your care recipient experiences symptoms such as severe dehydration (marked by very little urination, dry mouth, and dizziness), bloody diarrhea, prolonged vomiting that prevents liquids from staying down, and/or a high fever, it is time to seek emergency care.

These signs indicate serious complications that necessitate medical intervention.

Steps to Take to Prevent Food Poisoning

The CDC outlines important food safety practices that will reduce the chances of food poisoning. They include a handy chart to print and keep in your recipient of care’s kitchen.

Be sure to also do the following:

  • Practice good hygiene by washing hands thoroughly before handling food and regularly cleaning kitchen surfaces. 
  • Ensure food is stored correctly, respecting temperature rules to inhibit bacterial growth. 
  • Be mindful of expiration dates. When in doubt, throw it out.
  • Cook food to the right temperatures. 
  • Avoid cross-contamination by using separate kitchen tools for raw and cooked foods.
  • Educate everyone involved in food prep within the home about these safe food-handling practices.

The USDA explains food safety practices as a 4-step process:  

  • Clean: Wash and sanitize hands, utensils, and surfaces often. Bacteria can spread and survive in many places.
  • Separate: Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can spread bacteria to ready-to-eat foods, so keep them separate.
  • Cook: Use a food thermometer to check whether a meal has reached a safe internal temperature to kill any harmful bacteria. 
  • Chill: Refrigerate perishable food within two hours. If the food is exposed to temperatures above 90 F (like a hot car or picnic), refrigerate it within one hour.

Guarding against food poisoning is an essential aspect of caregiving that we can’t overlook. Awareness, vigilance, and adopting safe food handling practices are all important! Remember to seek medical attention for your care recipient if symptoms become severe.

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Ensuring our seniors' dietary safety protects them from potential harm and gives us peace of mind. Be sure to follow our blog for more helpful resources and tips for home caregivers.

Older couple in kitchen enjoying a snack.
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