Common Sense Health: Don’t Let Food Safety in the Kitchen Lapse

It’s an age-old problem, but not one that should come with age. Yet, compared to younger culinary novices, elderly people may be more prone to making mistakes in food preparation that can lead to food poisoning.

Kitchens can be a dangerous place. So no harm in having a refresher to make sure food safety in the kitchen doesn’t lapse. You know why. Recall that occasion when it seemed like a good meal – until later, when cramps, nausea and diarrhea had you vowing never to eat again.  Unless you’ve been visiting uncared for places or you are victim to an outbreak of foodborne illness, there’s no excuse for food poisoning other than an unfortunate mistake.

Unfortunately, mistakes happen, and with some frequency in the kitchens of seniors. For example, a study published in the Journal of Food Protection found that older adults were less likely to use food thermometers when cooking meat, increasing the risk of undercooked meat.

Another study found that elderly people were more likely to store food at unsafe temperatures, such as leaving perishable foods out at room temperature for too long or storing them in the refrigerator at temperatures above 40°F (4°C). This could increase the risk of bacterial growth.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that older adults are more likely to develop severe complications from foodborne illnesses, such as kidney failure or sepsis, due to age-related changes in the immune system and underlying health conditions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) claims that contaminated food is one of the most serious health problems in the world. It’s usually due to an organism called E. coli. And for infants, pregnant women and the elderly the consequences of consuming it can be fatal.

The good news is that food safety in the kitchen is straightforward and largely unchanging.

One – Wash your hands repeatedly. Your fingers are excellent at transmitting infection.

Two – Keep kitchen surfaces meticulously clean. Bacteria always win if you become careless.

Three – Protect food from insects and rodents in cupboards and drawers. Animals often carry pathogenic organisms that cause foodborne disease. Store food in closed containers.

Four – Many foods such as fruits and vegetables are better in their natural state. But others are not safe unless they’re processed. For instance, lettuce needs thorough washing and pasteurized milk is safer than raw milk.

Five – Cook food thoroughly. Many raw foods such as poultry, meats and eggs may be contaminated with disease causing organisms. Thorough cooking will kill the pathogens. So if cooked chicken is raw near the bone put it back in the oven until it’s done.

Six – Eat cooked foods immediately. When cooked foods cool to room temperature, bacteria begin to multiply. The longer the wait the greater the risk.

Seven – Store cooked foods carefully. A common error is putting too large a quantity of warm food in the refrigerator. In an overburdened refrigerator, food remains warm too long allowing bacteria to proliferate.

Eight – Reheat cooked foods thoroughly. This is your best protection against bacteria that may have developed during storage.

Nine – Avoid contact between raw foods and cooked foods. For instance, safely cooked foods can become contaminated by even the slightest contact with raw food. So don’t prepare a raw chicken and then use the same unwashed cutting board and knife to carve a cooked bird.

Ten – Add a pinch of common sense. If something seems “off”, then don’t eat it. If food is past it’s expiry date, throw it out.

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Photo of man cooking by Mike Jones from Pexels

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