Food Safety for Seniors: Cooking, Cleaning and Refrigeration Best Practices
According to the U.S. Department of Health, adults aged 65 and older are more likely to be hospitalized due to foodborne illness.
As the body ages, its ability to eliminate toxins in food lessens. Many seniors also suffer from chronic illnesses that they manage with prescription medication, which may cause side effects that weaken their immune system.
These are some among many reasons for practicing food safety. Here is a list of strategies to help you manage cooking, cleaning, and refrigerating your food.
You can’t correctly tell if cooked food like steak, chicken, or pork is safe to eat based solely on their color. These meats can change color even though they still contain bacteria.
The surest way to know the food you’ve cooked is safe to eat is to check its internal cooking temperature. That’s why it’s essential to have a digital food thermometer in your kitchen. Follow these steps when using the thermometer to avoid consuming undercooked meat:
- 1. Remove the meat from the heat.
- 2. Insert the digital thermometer into the thickest part of the meat.
- 3. Check the temperature of all separate meat pieces.
If cooking hamburgers, insert the thermometer into the side of the patties for the most accurate reading. You should cook ground beef to at least 160 °F and ground poultry to 165 °F. Other internal cooked meat temperatures include:
- Chicken to 165°F
- Pork to 160 °F
- Seafood to 145 °F
- Steaks and roasts to 145 °F
Although egg is not technically meat, if you’re cooking an egg dish, ensure the internal temperature is 160 °F.
Also, use separate cutting boards for preparing meat, vegetables, and fruit while cooking. Even if you’re cleaning the cutting boards as you cook, it’s best to use separate cutting boards to avoid accidental cross-contamination.
Food cleanliness is essential to prevent foodborne illness and food poisoning. You must clean your hands, all utensils, and kitchen surfaces before preparing and cooking the food. It’s also essential to clean fruits and vegetables before cooking because bacteria in grocery bags and bins could contaminate them.
Here are some tips to make it easier to ensure your food is always safely prepared:
- Wash your hands before, during, and after preparing a meal.
- Avoid touching pets while preparing food.
- Clean all kitchen surfaces immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat.
- Use paper towels to wipe off kitchen counters during food preparation.
- Change dish towels daily.
- Avoid using sponges because they soak up (pun intended) bacteria.
- Use a kitchen sanitizer spray to clean kitchen surfaces after cooking.
Many seniors are surprised to learn that their usual refrigeration habits put them at risk. For example, it’s common for people to thaw their meat on the kitchen counter at room temperature. However, this practice can lead to food contamination and make your kitchen counters unsanitary.
You should thaw food in the refrigerator, in the microwave, or under cold running water. Also, don’t refreeze thawed food. Use it right away or dispose of it.
Correct food refrigeration ensures your food is safe to cook and eat. Here are some things you should know about refrigerating or freezing your food:
- Refrigeration temperatures should be set at 40°F and freezers at 0°F.
- Unopened meat packages last longer in the refrigerator than opened packages.
- Food doesn’t last in the freezer indefinitely.
- Refrigerated leftovers should be eaten within 2-3 days.
- Not all foods are freezable.
Also, pay attention to moldy food. It’s tempting to throw out only the moldy pieces of deli cheese or fruit in a package and leave the rest. However, this isn’t a good idea. Mold produces mycotoxins, which can lead to foodborne illnesses and even cause cancer.
While it’s best to always err on the side of caution and throw out moldy food, there are some exceptions. It’s harder for mold to penetrate dense cheese blocks and cured meats like salami. If you find small moldy sections on these foods, you can cut—but don’t scrape—the mold away.
Staying committed to food safety practices in your kitchen is essential to aging well. You’ll avoid unnecessary hospital stays and the unpleasant side effects of food poisoning. If you need help preparing your food, ask family and friends or hire a home care service for food preparation and cleaning assistance.
Leave the meal preparation to us. With a maintenance-free lifestyle at Crestwood Manor, you can simply get more out of your day, and that includes exploring the range of senior living services and amenities we offer on site.