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A Healthy Diet Begins with Safe Food Handling

A healthy diet is an important ingredient of a longer and stronger life. Nutritious food, properly prepared, is not just a necessity for physical wellness; it also contributes to a feeling of emotional well-being. Who doesn’t enjoy a well-prepared, nutritious meal? Unfortunately, good food handling and preparation habits can become challenging for older adults, resulting in food that may be unsafe to eat, even potentially fatal. For example, a 16-year study published by the National Institutes of Health found that the highest frequency of deaths caused by Salmonella poisoning occurred among adults age 75-84, with males being 84% more likely to be the victim. 

 A healthy diet begins with food that is safe to eat. There are three essential elements of food preparation and handling that are critical for preventing foodborne illness: Clean Hands, Clean Cutting, Mind the Temperature.

Clean Hands

Wash hands with soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food and dry them using a paper towel. An easy way to measure 20 seconds is by singing “Happy Birthday to You” to yourself twice.

Clean Cutting

Avoid cross-contamination by keeping all raw meat, poultry, fish and their juices away from other food. After cutting raw meats, wash hands, knives, cutting board and counter top with hot, soapy water. Periodically sanitize cutting boards with a solution of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach in one quart of water.

Mind the Temperature

Storage Temperature

First and most important, make sure the refrigerator and freezer temperatures are safe. A refrigerator should be at 40°F or below; a freezer should be at 0°F or below. Measure temperatures with an appliance thermometer; they are inexpensive and available at almost any big box discount store. Refrigerate perishables bought at the grocery store within two hours of purchase – sooner on hot days. Fresh poultry, fish and ground meats should be cooked or frozen within two days. Other beef, veal, lamb and pork should be cooked or frozen within five days. A complete cold storage reference chart is available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (click here). For a free printed copy, contact AC Skylines Home Care Services at the number shown below.

Cooking Temperature

For reasons of safety, raw meats must be heated to kill any bacteria that may be in or on them. Use a digital cooking thermometer (purchase when buying the appliance thermometer) to measure whether enough heat has been applied in cooking.
Cook meats to the following temperatures:

• Beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks: cook to a minimum internal temperature of 145°

• Poultry: cook to an internal temperature of 165°

• Ground meat (beef, pork, lamb and veal): cook to a minimum internal temperature of 160°

Why must ground meat be cooked to 165° internally while steaks are safe to eat after their internal temperature reaches 145°? The reason is any bacteria present are on the surface of cuts of meat such as steaks, roasts and chicken parts and they are killed readily during cooking. However, when beef and other meats are ground, bacteria from the surface are mixed throughout the meat as it is chopped into tiny pieces. That means ground meats must be cooked all the way through in order for the heat to reach and kill the bacteria.

Serving Temperature

The basic rule for serving temperature is simple: keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Use chafing dishes, slow cookers or warming trays to hold the temperature of hot foods at 140°. Nest serving dishes in bowls of ice to hold the temperature of cold foods below 40°. Another strategy for cold food is to serve small quantities at a time and refresh from the refrigerator frequently. Perishable food should not be left out more than two hours at room temperature – less on hot days. Discard any food left out longer.

Take Action for a Healthy Diet

As people age, good dietary, food preparation and eating habits sometimes slip. Meals are skipped or are less nutritious and food safety habits are relaxed or forgotten, while susceptibility to illness caused by foodborne bacteria increases. However, poor nutrition can be a fixable problem, with a little help. Meal planning and preparation assistance, provided by a friend, a relative or a service provider such as a home care service company may be the answer. At the end of the day, a nutritious meal, prepared just for her, the way she likes it, in her own home, may be the answer to keep an older individual on the track to “longer and stronger.”

For more information, call AC Skylines Home Care Services at (309) 689-5343 or send email to BCowley@acskylines.org.

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