Food poisoning is a serious matter and can be even more serious among older people. According to the Foods Standards Agency, there is a rising incidence with this age group. Their report stated that “people aged 60 and over are more likely than younger people to take risks with use-by dates.” The FSA also reported that their recent findings show using food past its “use-by-date” increases food poisoning from Listeria, a potentially deadly bacteria.

The “waste not” philosophy that is more common among seniors is attributed to this increase. Other contributing factors include increasing food prices and fixed incomes.

Dr Andrew Wadge, Chief Scientist at the FSA, said, “There are some really simple steps people can take to prevent getting ill in the first place: be aware that ‘use by’ dates indicate how long food will remain safe, and then make sure you stick to them; always follow the storage instructions on the label; and make sure your fridge is cold enough — between 0°C and 5°C is ideal.

The FSA states, “As a side issue, the ‘best-before’ date, which also appears on a wide range of foods, is an indication of the quality of food, rather than its safety. Food eaten after a best-before date may not taste as good as it did before, but it will not do you any harm (with the exception of eggs, which should not be eaten after best-before date).

Listeria is a type of bacteria that lives and multiplies in various foods. It is more prevalent in foods that are chilled and ready to eat such as sliced meats, smoked salmon, soft cheeses, butter, packaged sandwiches and pate.

The FSA warns that when infected with the Listeria bacteria, one can experience a variety of symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, stomach cramping, nausea and diarrhea. At a more serious stage, it may include headaches or confusion and can lead to severe complications. Wadge states “Serious illness and complications can be prevented by prompt medical treatment and antibiotics.”

According to the FSA website, the following are ways to avoid a Listeria infection:

• Don’t eat foods that are past their use-by date, even if they smell fine. Use-by dates indicate how long a food will remain safe (if food is frozen or cooked before the use-by date, it can be kept for longer).

• Follow the storage instructions on food packaging, such as ‘freeze on day of purchase’, ‘cook from frozen’ or ‘defrost thoroughly before use and use within 24 hours’.

• Make sure your fridge is at the right temperature, ideally between 0°C and 5°C.

• Make sure that reheated pre-prepared foods are steaming hot before you eat them.

Only eat pasteurized dairy produce.

Additional preventive tips to minimize the risk:

• Wash your hands and keep work surfaces clean.

• Return promptly from grocery shopping to keep food at appropriate temperatures.

• Don’t keep foods stored in open cans in the refrigerator.

• Improperly cooked meats are the biggest cause of food poisoning. Cook food to the proper internal temperature and check for doneness with a food thermometer. Heat can destroy the organisms that result in food poisoning. When a thermometer is not used, check for the following: steam should rise from food; juices from meat and poultry should be clear, not pink; pork, veal and poultry should appear white inside, not pink or red; shellfish should be opaque; and fish should flake easily with a fork.

• Wash cutting boards and knives with hot soapy water especially when cutting raw meat, poultry or seafood. Sanitize with a diluted bleach solution.

• Don’t leave foods at room temperature for more than two hours.

• Don’t expose food to cuts or bruises on your hands

• Replace or wash kitchen towels and sponges frequently to prevent spreading harmful bacteria throughout the kitchen or use disposables. Use paper towels to dry washed hands after handling raw foods.

• Wash vegetables and fruits well with a clean vegetable brush.

• Always thaw food in the refrigerator or microwave. Never defrost food at room temperature on the countertop. Do not refreeze meats once they are thawed.

• Observe food for spoilage. Do not eat if there is a bad odor. For canned foods, check the dates as well as rust, bulges, or dents.

• Do not eat wild mushrooms unless certified safe.

Mary Garza Cummings is a free-lance writer. The Town Crier does not warrant the information as valid. It is the responsibility of the reader to ensure validity of the information. If you have questions or comments, email askseniorfocus@aol.com