Critical Food Safety Precautions for Older Adults

Updated on August 26, 2015

As September’s National Food Safety Month approaches, STOP Foodborne Illness (, the leading national advocate for safe food, is urging older adults to follow a number of important food-safety practices to avoid getting sick.  Older Adults have increased vulnerability to foodborne illness for several reasons: they typically have decreased stomach acid (the body’s natural defense from foodborne bacteria) or they may have a weakened immune system from an underlying illness such as diabetes, kidney disease or from undergoing cancer treatment. Two foodborne pathogens in particular, Listeria and Vibrio, cause more illnesses for seniors than any other age group. Seniors need to be especially careful when consuming foods that are likely to be contaminated with these bacteria.

            “Most people don’t realize that their natural defenses to foodborne pathogens decrease as they age,” said Darin Detwiler, Sr. Policy Coordinator of STOP Foodborne Illness.  “If you’re older than 65, taking precautions can help save you from suffering from an illness that you might have been able to fight off even a few years ago.”

            Darin himself experienced the personal tragedy of foodborne illness when he lost his young son to E. coli O157:H7 poisoning from contaminated ground beef in 1993.  Since then, Detwiler has been a tireless advocate for food safety, who is an FDA Certified Food Science Educator recognized by four different Secretaries of Agriculture for his efforts in consumer education, and served two appointments on the USDA’s National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection.

STOP Foodborne Illness – Safe-Food Guidelines for Adults 65+

  • Cook eggs to 160°F.  Salmonella can grow both inside and outside eggs.  The safest practice is to cook all eggs to 160°F. To further reduce risks, wash hands thoroughly after handling eggs. For those who like eggs runny or who eat uncooked eggs in foods like raw dough, eggnog, or homemade Caesar dressing, buy pasteurized shell eggs or liquid pasteurized egg products.
  • Heat lunchmeat and hotdogs to 165°F. Listeria is a bacterium that can be found in ready-to-eat foods, such as lunchmeat.  Although the majority of the population can resist Listeria, those more vulnerable may become sick and pregnant women can suffer miscarriages as a result of eating Listeria-contaminated ready-to-eat foods.  To reduce the risk of Listeria, heat cold cuts and hot dogs to 160°F, and order hot sandwiches in restaurants. 
  • Avoid raw fish.  Raw fish and shellfish can be a source of pathogens, including a particularly harmful one, Vibrio which is most often found in raw seafood items, such as oysters. Some Vibrio illnesses can be fatal, especially in patients with liver disease and the immunocompromised. Avoid raw fin fish, such as raw fish found in sushi, plus other raw shellfish such as oysters and scallops.
  • Avoid raw or unpasteurized milk and cheeses.  Most are pasteurized, but read the labels, particularly on soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, Camembert, Roquefort, blue-veined cheeses, and Mexican-style soft cheese such as queso fresco.
  • Drink pasteurized juices.  Most juices are pasteurized, but some may not be.  Unpasteurized juices can contain harmful bacteria, but should be easy to steer clear of because they are required by law to carry a warning label.  When buying smoothies, ask the preparer if they use pasteurized juice.  If they aren’t sure or say no, it’s best to skip it. 
  • Cook to safe temperatures.
    • Burgers/Ground Meat (Except poultry) – 160°F
    • Grilled Chicken & Other Poultry Products (like Turkey Burgers) – 165°F
    • Whole cuts of Meat, Including Pork – 145°F AND LET REST 3 MINUTES
  • Avoid cross contamination.
    • Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meats and produce
    • Wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds
    • Sanitize surfaces, such as countertops, where raw meat and poultry have been

For National Food Safety Month, STOP Foodborne Illness also is offering food safety tips for school-age children, pregnant women, and mothers with young children.  For more food safety tips please visit  If you think you have been sickened from food, please seek medical attention immediately.


Senior Outlook Today is your go-to source for information, inspiration, and connection as you navigate the later years of life. Our team of experts and writers is dedicated to providing relevant and engaging content for seniors, covering topics such as health and wellness, finances, technology and travel.