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Age Increases Your Risk of Foodborne Illness

Patrick Boshell
August 01, 2017


A quick disclaimer – foodborne illness does not discriminate based on age.  Unfortunately, however, getting older can make you more susceptible to foodborne illness, according to the findings of a new study.


Getting older is not easy for many people.  Some do it gracefully, some do not care about it at all, and some are always striving to live in the past.  Whether you are a millennial, generation x or a baby boomer, you are not immune to the risk of foodborne illness.  Some new research from Michigan State University, however, has found a link between getting older and the increased risk of foodborne illness.


According to the researchers, there is a decrease in our stomach acids as we age, which acts as a natural defense against bacteria.  Additionally, over time our immune system becomes less capable of fighting off bacteria that may be causing a foodborne illness.  The researchers suggested that, “Understanding and practicing safe food handling is the best preventative step to keep seniors healthy.”


Smell and Taste: Not Good Tests for Bad Food


So how do you decide if food is okay to eat? Well according to the CDC the phrase, “smells okay” precedes 85% of foodborne illnesses in the United States annually. 


“We analyzed data from thousands of cases involving food-related ailments over the last decade and concluded that most individuals had given a quick once-over to leftovers and uttered some variation of ‘probably still good’ before spending the next several hours suffering intense stomach pain and vomiting,” said Dr. Robert Husted, director of the CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases. 


Dr. Husted also noted that the statement, “hasn’t been sitting out for that long,” could be directly linked to cases of E. coli and even botulism.    The report also confirmed that thousands of foodborne illness cases start immediately after a friend of family member says, “try this.”


It turns out that smell or taste is not a good way to determine if food has gone bad, according to the Michigan State University study.  The researchers noted, “Many of the pathogens that can cause foodborne illness cannot be seen or smelled.  The sense of smell and taste can also be impacted by age, illness or medication as well.”


Food Handling Tips to Ensure Food is Safe


Safe food practices can help you avoid foodborne illness, no matter what your age.  The researchers at Michigan State University recommended the following tips.


  • Always wash hands with warm, soapy water before and after preparing food.


  • Keep counters clean, wash with warm soapy water and rinse prior to preparing food and after.


  • Wash cutting boards and other work surfaces that are exposed to raw meat and poultry.


  • Avoid washing meat before cooking – cooking to the correct internal temperature will take care of the bacteria.


  • Never thaw foods at room temperature (on the counter or in the sink). Thaw in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave. If you use the microwave, you must continue cooking the food.


  • Never leave perishable food out of the refrigerator over two hours. If room temperature is above 90 degrees F (32 °C), food should not be left out over an hour. This includes leftovers from restaurants, Meals-on-Wheels and church take-out meals.


  • Refrigerate or freeze all perishable foods. Make sure your refrigerator is set at 40 degrees F (4 °C) or cooler and the freezer temperature should be 0 degrees F (-17 °C) or less. Utilize thermometers in both the refrigerator and freezer.


  • Thoroughly cook raw meat, poultry and fish. Do not rely on color or “until the juice runs clear” to determine if it is cooked properly. Always set the oven at 325 degrees F (162 °C) or higher. There is no need to bring food to room temperature before cooking.

 Watch Hand Washing Video




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