The Importance of Food Safety for Older Adults

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The Importance of Food Safety for Older Adults

A sparse fridge or barren pantry are two of the most common signs aging loved ones need more support to remain safely and independently in their homes. However, a fridge or pantry chock full of expired, rotting, or stale food is equally alarming.

The U.S. Department of Human Services page warns that food safety for older adults is a serious concern, stating adults aged 65 and older are more likely to be hospitalized or die from foodborne illness.

Let’s review some of the primary food safety concerns associated with adults 65+ to highlight the importance of food safety for older adults. 

Lack of a Regular Fresh Food Supply

Once adults experience mobility issues, no longer drive, or don’t have the stamina to prepare regular meals, lack of food supply is a significant issue. Without regular grocery shopping support or healthy meal and snack preparation, older adults tend to rely on processed foods with long shelf lives.

Processed foods with long shelf lives are typically the exact opposite of what most healthcare providers recommend for aging-friendly diets, all of which focus on fresh fruits and veggies, whole foods, and low fat/salt/processed sugar. Unfortunately, a diet of shelf-stable foods rarely aligns with these healthy eating tenets.

Affordable Senior Home Care can help with our grocery shopping and errand running services. Not only will our caregivers ensure fresh food options are always available but they will also discard old and expired products when they restock the pantry and fridge.

Frugal Food Hoarding

Many adults live on a fixed income or grew up in an era where frugality was the norm. This results in food hoarding tendencies, where adults refuse to throw out food that is expired, partially rotting, or stale. 

You may notice that when you go out to eat, older loved ones save half of their food portion to take home for later. But that to-go box is only good for another day at the most. Take-home food should be thrown out altogether if it is left for any amount of time in a heated car or sits too long on a countertop.

Expired foods or products past their prime are the most likely to cause a foodborne illness. Therefore, old, expired, or rotting/wilted foods should be regularly culled from the pantry and refrigerator.

Inability to Read Expiration Or “Use By” Dates

Manufacturers mean well with their stamped and printed “expires by…,” “sell by…” or “use by…” dates. However, small font sizes or a smeared/faded stamp make them challenging to read. That’s especially true for adults with progressive, age-related vision loss. 

As a result, foods often remain far longer on the shelves than they would have if your loved one could accurately read the print. The same is true if memory loss is present since even early stages of dementia involve confusion around calendar dates and times.

Increased Vulnerability to Foodborne Illness

Aging adults are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses for several reasons, including:

  • The body’s immune response to disease grows weaker.
  • The gastrointestinal tract holds onto food for a longer period, allowing bacteria to grow.
  • The liver and kidneys may not correctly rid the body of foreign bacteria and toxins.
  • The stomach may not produce enough acid. The acidity helps to reduce the number of bacteria in our intestinal tract.

Underlying chronic conditions, such as diabetes and cancer, may also increase a person’s risk of foodborne illness.

Minor cases of food poisoning can lead to hospitalization in seniors, particularly those who live alone. The combination of feeling unwell, weakness/dizziness, and dehydration is dangerous for seniors. They are even more at risk if they don’t have someone to physically check in on them, keep them hydrated, and bring simple broths and foods until they’re well again. 

Vision- or Mobility Issues Compromise Kitchen Hygiene

Just as failing eyesight inhibits the ability to read expiration dates or notice a bit of mold here and there, vision issues also make it difficult to maintain a hygienic kitchen. 

If an aging loved one resists support in the form of companion services, transportation services, or meal preparation, weekly light housekeeping (part of our hourly care offerings) may be the ideal fit. This first phase of in-home support brings experienced in-home caregivers into the mix without threatening an adult’s independence.

Diminishing Interest or Ability to Prepare Meals 

Even the most dedicated home cooks lose their interest in cooking as energy wanes, mobility declines, or they live alone. If a person never cooked but can no longer drive to restaurants or their deceased spouse did most of the cooking, they are also at a loss. 

Our caregivers offer meal planning and in-home cooking services to ensure your loved ones have delicious and healthy meals at the ready. We’re also happy to keep our clients company while they eat because we believe meals are meant to be shared. Studies show aging adults tend to eat better in terms of both quality and quantity when they have company during a meal.

Food Safety for Older Adults: Professional Meal Planning and Cooking Support

Food safety for older adults starts with ensuring daily access to fresh, nutritious, and tasty meals and snacks. It’s important to make sure your loved ones are eating well and staying nourished as they age.

Do you suspect it’s time to utilize professional meal planning and cooking services to support a healthier lifestyle for your aging loved one? We are here to help! Feel free to contact Affordable Senior Home Care to learn more about our cooking services or to schedule a free, no-obligation assessment. 

Looking for more information about providing cooking support for your aging loved one? Click below to learn more about in-home cooking care. 


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