NUTRITIONALS LEARNING CENTER
EATING SAFELY: AVOID FOODBORNE ILLNESS
What is Foodborne Illness?
Food safety is a vital part of staying well. Each year, about 48 million people in the United States become ill from eating contaminated foods which results in thousands to be hospitalized and around 3,000 deaths. Illnesses from eating foods contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites are called foodborne illnesses, also known as food poisoning.
Seniors Are at Increased Risk
Foodborne illness can affect anyone, but seniors are at increased risk. As we age, our bodies produce less stomach acid, making it harder to get rid of harmful bacteria that enter our digestive system. Therefore, our digestion may slow down, allowing harmful bacteria to stay in our bodies longer. Changes in smell and taste can keep us from knowing when food is spoiled. Foodborne illnesses can cause serious health problems for seniors. An senior who gets a foodborne illness is likely to be sicker longer, and if hospitalized, is likely to have a longer hospital stay.
Reasons for Foodborne Illness
There are many reasons why foodborne illnesses affect us today. People are eating more meals outside the home and consuming more food that is prepared by others. Much of the food we consume is delivered over longer distances. Also, harmful bacteria that are more resistant to drugs are finding their way into foods. Foodborne illnesses can be dangerous. Many are caused by bacteria such as E.coli and salmonella, which can cause serious health problems. If you follow good food safety practices, you can reduce your risk of getting sick from these and other harmful bacteria.
Foods To Avoid
Some foods are more risky for older adults than others. Avoid these foods to reduce your chance of getting foodborne illness.
Know the Symptoms of Foodborne IllnessIt can be difficult to know when harmful bacteria in food have made you sick since you cannot see, smell, or taste the bacteria the food may contain. If you get a foodborne illness, you might have upset stomach, abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea. Or, you could have flu-like symptoms with a fever and headache, and body aches. Sometimes people confuse foodborne illness with other types of illness.
Many times people think their foodborne illness was caused by their last meal, but that might not be true. The time between eating the contaminated food and the onset of illness can vary widely. Typically, foodborne bacteria take 1 to 3 days to cause illness. However, you could become sick anytime from 30 minutes to 3 weeks after eating some foods with dangerous bacteria. Whether you actually get sick or not depends on a variety of factors, including the type of bacteria in the food.
Pay Attention to Product Dates
“Open” dating is found primarily on perishable foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. “Closed or coded dates” are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer. “Closed” or “coded” dating might appear on shelf-stable products such as cans and boxes of food.
These are the types of “open” dates that may appear on perishable foods.
If You Have Eaten Contaminated Food
If you think you have a foodborne illness, you should take these steps.
1. Contact your doctor or health care provider. As an older adult, you are at increased risk for severe infection. Contact your physician immediately if you develop symptoms or think you may be at risk. If you develop signs of infection as discussed with your physician, seek out medical advice and/or treatment immediately.
2. Preserve the food in question. Wrap it securely, label it "Danger", and freeze it. The food may be used to diagnose your illness and prevent others from getting sick.
3. Save all packaging materials, such as cans or cartons. Write down the food, the date and time consumed, and save any identical unopened products. Write down as many foods and beverages you can recall consuming in the past week (or longer), since the onset time for various foodborne illnesses differ.
4. Report the contaminated food. If the suspect food is a USDA-inspected meat, poultry, or egg product, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). For all other foods, call the FDA Office of Emergency Operations at 1-866-300-4374 or 301-796-8240.
5. Call your local county or city health department if you think you became ill from food you ate at a local restaurant or other eating establishment so they can investigate.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that if consumers have questions about foodborne illnesses, they should contact CDC’s hotline at 1-800-232-4636 (24-hour recorded information).p>Getting ill from eating contaminated food can be very serious. However, the good news is that if you know how to handle, prepare, store, and consume foods safely, you can reduce your risk of getting a foodborne illness.
Source: National Institute on Aging
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