Older People at Higher Risk for Food Poisoning

May 16, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. — Food poisoning can affect everyone, but older Americans are at a greater risk, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension food specialist said.

Older people are especially at risk because as people age, stomach fluids become less acidic and microbes have a greater chance of surviving, said Julie Albrecht, food specialist in the university's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.  

"Stomach acid is the first line of defense against microbes," Albrecht said.

The Partnership for Food Safety Education has four core practices for safe food handling. They include:

– Clean: Keep hands clean and wash surfaces often.

– Separate: Keep raw meats separate to avoid cross-contamination.

– Cook: Cook foods to their proper temperature, which are 145 degrees Fahrenheit for steaks and roasts and 160 degrees Fahrenheit for ground beef.

– Chill: Refrigerate promptly. See this cold storage chart for proper storage times at http://www.fightbac.org/safe-food-handling/chill. 

Albrecht said that even healthy older people still need to be concerned about food safety.

"Many people believe that because they're healthy, they're not going to be at risk," Albrecht said.  

Habits may also play a role. Albrecht said that elderly people may be at a higher risk of food poisoning due to them leaving food out for more than two hours.

People need to be aware of how to properly protect themselves against microbes that can cause illness. "Microorganisms have been changing," Albrecht said. "There are even some microorganisms that are causing food poisoning that didn't cause it 30 years ago." 

Julie Albrecht, Ph.D.
Nutrition and Health Sciences

Heather Haskins
Student Writer

Sandi Alswager Karstens
IANR News Service