Over five million cases of food poisoning in Australia each year can be reduced if you follow these simple rules!
It’s really nice to show you care by cooking special favorite meals for the residents of an aged care facility – perhaps culturally specific food or a family favorite which is not normally available in that facility.
But if you do, you really wouldn’t want to make them sick, so there are some things you need to know.
Our immune systems get weaker as we get older. Also our stomachs produce less acid which makes it easier for harmful germs to get through the digestive system and invade our bodies.
If elderly people do get food poisoning, they are also likely to suffer more severe consequences. These can range from mild dehydration to neuromuscular dysfunction or even death. Older people also take longer than most of us to recover from food poisoning.
There are some foods that pose a higher risk than others, particularly of passing on a Listeria infection which is dangerous for the elderly.
There are no special rules for cooking for elderly people – you just need to be even fussier than normal.
If you place to take chilled or frozen food you have cooked yourself, make sure that the food is cooled quickly in your refrigerator: never at room temperature.
Always wash your hands well under running water using soap and dry thoroughly before handling food.
You can get information on preparing food safety from the fact sheet “Protecting Tiny Tummies and Sensitive Systems” and other fact sheets on the Food Safety Information Council website, www.foodsafety.asn.au
You will need to transport your food to the aged care facility so take care that it is protected from contamination during transport and, if it is chilled food, it is kept cool or if you are taking hot food, you keep it hot during the journey.
Food should be kept at 5 degrees Celsius or cooler or, for hot food, at 60 degrees Celsius or hotter. Between 5 and 60 degrees is known as the temperature danger zone because harmful bacteria multiply to dangerous levels in food when it is kept between these temperatures.
Put cold food into a cooler with ice packs when travelling to visit your relative or friend. Don’t pack food if it has just been cooked and is still warm. Coolers cannon cool food they can only keep cold food cool.
Always cover pre-prepared foods securely and prechill them, for example, keep in the refrigerator overnight. Other perishable foods and drinks, such as deli products, cooked chicken and dairy products must also be cold when put in the cooler.
Hot food is difficult to keep hot and is best avoided if you are travelling long distances. It is best to chill food overnight and reheat it at the residence. If you must take hot food on a longer journey, an insulated jug, preheated with boiling water before being filled with the steaming hot food, can be used.
If you are unsure whether the jug will keep the food above 60 degrees Celsius, try filling it with water at 90 degrees Celsius, seal and test the water temperature after the length of time you expect your journey to take. If it is still above 60 degrees then you can use the jug. You will need a food thermometer to do this test. If any perishable food you bring is not eaten immediately, make sure it is refrigerated before you leave.
Different aged care facilities will have different rules about reheating food provided by friends or relatives. In some, staff will reheat the food, in others, staff are not permitted to do so. In some facilities, the elderly person can reheat the food themselves. In others the person providing the food must do the reheating.
Check with the staff to find out the rules in that facility. make sure that staff know that you have brought in food and ask them how to go about re-heating it.
Food needs to be reheated to a minimum of 75 degrees Celsius or 70 degrees Celsius for two minutes to kill any bacteria or viruses that might be present in the food.
Reheating Food in a Microwave Oven
if you are reheating food in a microwave, you need to be especially careful that the food is heated evenly.
Food heated in a microwave oven does not heat uniformly and unwanted germs may survive in portions of poorly heated food.
Manufacturers recommend standing times to help alleviate the problem of uneven heating. many microwavable meal packs carry the instructions to stir the food part way through the cooking process. Items such as lasagna that can’t be stirred should be allowed standing time to allow the whole product to reach a uniform temperature.
How evenly the food will heat will also depend on the thickness of portions and on the composition and moisture content of the food.
Frozen food needs to be completely thawed before reheating.
If you are reheating a commercially prepared food, read and follow all the manufacturers microwaving instructions.
If any perishable food you have provided is not eaten immediately, tell the staff and ask them about storing the food in a refrigerator.
Some elderly people like to keep extra food in their rooms in drawers or bedside tables for eating later. While this is OK for shelf-stable foods like cakes, biscuits and chocolates, this can be very risky with perishable food such as cold meats, custard or cream filled cakes and cooked vegetables and meat dishes.
Leaving perishable food in the tempretaure danger zone for too long before eating can result in foodborne illness. Food which can cause food poisoning many not look or taste spoiled.
Sometimes elderly people can also forget how long the food has been there.
If you bring commercially prepared food make sure the elderly person is aware of any “best before” or “use by” date on the food.
Make sure you tell the staff if the elderly person has some perishable food in their room.
Remember: When you bring food into an aged care facility for a relative or friend it is YOU and not the staff who is responsible for its safety.
If you are cooking for an elderly person, please check the fact sheet “Protecting Tiny Tummies and Sensitive Systems” under “Publications” on the Food Safety Information Council’s website www.foodsafety.asn.au for more information on preparing food safely.
Whilst the residential care facility is the residents’ home catering staff can not be responsible for food brought in by residents or their relatives.
Foods of high risk such as, poultry, fish, dairy products, meat, eggs, rice brought in by the resident or relatives /friends must be consumed at the time of being brought to the facility.
Staff must not store these food items or reheat them.Food of low risk such as, biscuits, unfilled cakes, fruit are acceptable to be stored and served.
A Register of Food Donated /Brought to the Facility (27.2.3) is maintained.
The Food Safety Information Council is a non-profit group with representatives of State and Federal governments, food industry and professional associations. Membership is open to any organisation with an interest in promoting safe food handling practices for consumers.
They aim to reduce the over five million cases of food poisoning in Australia each year by educating consumers to handle food safely from the time it leaves the retailer until it appears on the plate.
The above information was provided by the fact sheet “Food Safety Tips” by the Food Safety Information Council and sponsored by the Compass Group (Australia) as a service to aged care facilities.