The consumer’s ultimate expectation is quality food and additionally, not to get sick from the food they eat at a restaurant or food service commissary. In the case of our senior citizens, they are in a special class, referred to in food safety circles as a high-risk group or highly susceptible population. Other high-risk patrons are small children, pregnant mothers and babies, people taking certain medications, and people that are otherwise immune-compromised. What puts seniors in that special class is their bodies have a lessened ability to fight off dangerous pathogens that might invade through contaminated food.
Our best elder consumers – Senior citizens have had a lifetime of experience shopping, preparing, and eating food. Federal studies show that seniors do a better job of actually handling food safely than any other age group, so food service facilities need to take heed. Statistics also show that nearly 50% of the money Americans spend on food goes to buy food that others prepare, like “carry out” and restaurant meals. Healthcare facilities such as nursing homes, assisted living, and acute care facilities are responsible for almost 100% of the food that is eaten by patients or clients in their captive audience.
Why are seniors more susceptible to foodborne illness? Everyone’s health is different, including his or her ability to fight off disease. Immune systems weaken as we age. Stomach acid also decreases as we get older—and stomach acid plays an important role in reducing the number of bacteria in our intestinal tracts—and the risk of illness. Plus, for senior citizens, underlying illnesses such as diabetes, some cancer treatments, and kidney disease may increase a person’s risk of foodborne illness. So, aside from being a bit more demanding customers for restaurants, seniors are special customers when it comes to safe food.
Consumer Advisory – In the FDA Food Code (Chapter 3-603.11 / 2013 FDA Food Code), restaurants must follow the recommendation to notify their customers if they choose to consume raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs, as it may increase their risk of foodborne illness. This type of written statement is called the “consumer advisory.” It must be posted using brochures, signs on deli cases, package labels, menu statements, table tents, or other effective written means for consumers to read. So seniors beware when you see such a warning.
Foods Seniors Are Advised Not To Eat –To reduce risks of illness from bacteria or other pathogens, seniors and other high risk groups are advised NOT to eat:
• Raw fin fish and shellfish, including oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops. This includes some types of sushi.
• Hot dogs and luncheon meats, unless they are reheated until steaming hot.
• Raw or unpasteurized milk or soft cheeses (such as Feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, and Mexican-style cheese) unless they are labeled “made with pasteurized milk.” Hard cheeses, processed cheeses, cream cheese, cottage cheese, or yogurt need not be avoided.
• Refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads. Canned or shelf-stable meat spreads may be eaten.
• Refrigerated smoked seafood unless it is contained in a cooked dish, such as a casserole. Examples of these raw or undercooked foods are smoked versions of salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, or mackerel, that are most often labeled as “nova style,” “kippered,” or “lox” and are found in grocery type delis.
• Canned smoked seafood may be eaten safely.
• Raw or lightly cooked eggs (such as over easy or sunny-side up). Products containing raw eggs such as salad dressings, cookie or cake batter, homemade ice cream, sauces, and beverages such as eggnog. Such foods made from commercially pasteurized eggs are safe.
• Raw meat or poultry. Rare ground meats of any kind.
• Raw sprouts (alfalfa, clover, and radish).Unpasteurized or untreated fresh fruit or vegetable juice (they will carry a warning label). When fruits and vegetables are made into fresh-squeezed juice, harmful bacteria that may be present can become part of the finished product. 98% of the juice in the United States is pasteurized or otherwise treated to kill harmful bacteria.
Bottom Line: Seniors are an important part of our customer base in food service so cater to them and keep your foods safe. As for the doggie bag, because portions are larger than ever from restaurants and seniors don’t consume big meals, restaurants and commissaries should be careful to provide warning labels asking to refrigerate foods immediately to keep them safe on carry-out foods. If that senior consumer will not arrive home within 2 hours of finishing the meal, it is safer to leave the leftovers at the restaurant. Some senior centers have policies that do not allow leftovers to be taken home because of that risk.
About the Author: Lacie Thrall
Lacie Thrall passed away in early 2017 after a long illness. She dedicated her 35-year career to improving the health and well-being of others by promoting food safety best practices. Lacie worked in environmental health for 17 years before joining FoodHandler in 1997 as the Director of Safety Management. While at FoodHandler, she trained employees and customers on safe food handling practices, including proper hand hygiene and glove use. Later as a FoodHandler consultant, Lacie provided the foodservice industry with food safety information and advice through her blog on FoodHandler.com.
This information is provided as a general guideline and is not intended to be, nor does it, constitute legal or regulatory advice. Additional Federal regulations may apply to your particular circumstances. State, regional and local laws, ordinances and regulations may also apply.