Seniors and Foodborne Illness
Foodborne illness is a serious problem in the U.S. A staggering 76 million people get sick each year from eating contaminated food, and 5,000 die. And seniors are especially vulnerable, according to NIH SeniorHealth, a division of the National Institutes of Health that focuses on older people. The reasons: less stomach acid, which makes it harder to get rid of harmful bacteria like E.coli and salmonella; slowed-down digestion, allowing the bacteria to stay longer in the system; and a weaker sense of taste and smell, which might otherwise warn us away from doubtful food. (In addition to bacteria, parasites and viruses may also cause illness.)
Overall, the number of cases is increasing because we tend to eat out more often and have no control over how our food is prepared; our food is also transported to us over longer distances and more resistant bacteria may contaminate it. Additionally, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, summer brings great risks because of the often dicey circumstances of outdoor food preparation and storage.
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Symptoms and Overview Symptoms of food poisoning include diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Other symptoms may be fever and headache. Signs of an even more serious case of foodborne illness include vomiting blood, double vision and bloody stools.
Although many people tend to think that they’re being affected by their most recent meal, SeniorHealth says that the gap between eating the bad food and the onset of illness is anywhere from 30 minutes to three weeks.But although the thought of foodborne illness can be scary, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. At home, make sure to wash prep surfaces and food thoroughly. Cook food all the way through, and don’t wait to store leftovers. If you’re eating out, the restaurant should be clean in everything from tables to rest rooms, and if you ordered a hot meal it should be hot and not lukewarm.
Whether you’re eating at home or away, though, there are some foods you need to be skeptical about, and maybe skip altogether. Here they are:
Raw or undercooked poultry, meat or seafood...
Raw milk, milk products and juices...
Partially cooked or raw eggs as well as foods made with them, including cookie dough, cake batter and Caesar salad dressing. Eggnog’s also on the list...
Raw sprouts - bean, alfalfa, corn...
Ready-to-eat salads, whether with meat or fish
Click through to find the best ways to handle foodborne illness if you think you have it:
Contact your doctor or health care provider immediately; go to a hospital emergency room if you need to. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a 24/7hotline: 1-800-232-4636.
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. Save all packaging materials, such as cans or cartons. Write down the food, the date and time consumed, and save any identical unopened products.
Report the contaminated food to the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854. You can also call the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator in your state A complete list can be found at: www.fda.gov/safety/reportaproblem/.
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.
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