February 5, 1999 | By: Ellen Brightwell

Having a safe food supply ranks high on the nutritional concerns of the elderly. A primary issue is avoiding foodborne illnesses.

"It is increasingly important for the elderly to use safe food preparation and handling practices because they have a higher risk for illness and, once sick, require a longer time to recover. Over time, the immune system becomes less adept at ridding the body of bacteria. And, the elderly might not be able to detect changes that indicate food is unsafe because they tend to lose some of their senses of taste, sight and smell as they age," said Sandra Bastin, Extension food and nutrition specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

Bastin gave these guidelines for safe food handling:

* Bring safe food into your kitchen. Check the use-by date on all foods. Examine packages for rips or tears. Don't buy cans that have dents, bulges or corrosion.

* Keep food safe. Refrigerate or freeze all perishable foods. Use a refrigerator temperature of 40 F or less. The freezer temperature should be 0 F or less. Use a thermometer to check refrigerator and freezer temperatures.

* Don't thaw food at room temperature. Always thaw it in the refrigerator, cold water or a microwave oven. If you thaw food in a microwave, cook it immediately.

* Before handling food, wash hands with warm, soapy water. Wash hands, utensils, cutting boards and other work surfaces after contact with raw meat and poultry. Handling foods

with clean hands and utensils on clean surfaces reduces the number of bacteria that come in contact with food. This helps prevent cross-contamination which happens when germs from one food infect another food.

Other practices to prevent cross-contamination are to put dripping foods in a pan in the refrigerator. Also store foods that might drip on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.

* Never leave perishable foods, whether home-cooked, take-out or restaurant leftovers, out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. Temperatures of 40-140 F are conducive to bacterial growth. Since the temperature in most homes falls within this range, do not leave perishable foods out any longer than necessary.

* Thorough cooking is the single most important step in preventing foodborne disease. Be sure to thoroughly cook raw meat, poultry, fish, eggs and other foods of animal origin. Always set the oven temperature at 325 F or higher. It isn't necessary to let foods come to room temperature prior to cooking them.

* Store and reheat leftovers safely. Wash hands before putting leftovers away. Divide large quantities of leftovers into easier-to-cool portions and refrigerate them in a clean, covered dish. Put a date label on refrigerated leftovers and use them within two to three days. Freeze leftovers that you won't eat within the two-to-three-day period. Since leftovers should be reheated just once, reheat only as much as you will eat at one meal.

* When in doubt, throw it out. Dispose of raw meat that is greenish, has a slimy surface or has a bad odor. Also throw out moldy bread, syrup, jelly, jam, fruit, vegetables, cold cuts, bacon, cottage cheese, cream cheese or spreads.

Contact: 

Writer: Ellen Brightwell
(606) 257-1376

Source: Sandra Bastin
(606) 257-1812