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Tip: Boomers hospitalized for food illnesses

If 70 is the new 50 when it comes to age, 50 may be the new 70 when it comes to guarding against food-borne illnesses.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the over-50 age group is at the highest risk of getting sick from pathogens in their food.

True, most of those needing medical attention were at the older range of the group. "Highest hospitalization rates are in the 70 to 80-plus age groups, which we would expect given other health issues they may have," says Katie Fullerton, an analytic epidemiologist with the CDC. But the surprise was that the 50-69 age group had higher hospitalization rates for food-borne illnesses than all younger groups, even toddlers younger than 4, who previously had been thought to be at higher risk.

How can you lower your chances of getting sick from food-borne pathogens? "It comes down to following safe food handling and preparation recommendations," Fullerton says. "The basic lessons of clean, separate, cook and chill."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says refrigerate meat, poultry and eggs within two hours of purchasing or after cooking them. You can safely thaw frozen food in the refrigerator, cold water or the microwave, but never at room temperature. If you use the microwave or cold water method, cook the food immediately. And if you're grilling, boil all marinades that came in contact with raw meats before you reuse them.

To be safe, the USDA says don't keep leftovers in the refrigerator for more than four days. And the smell test doesn't pass the smell test when it comes to foods that could cause illness. "With most of the pathogens we have, when food is contaminated you can't tell," Fullerton says. "It doesn't necessarily smell different or taste different."

To download a copy of the USDA's "Food Safety for Older Adults," go to www.fsis.usda.gov and type in "older" in the search box.

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