Healthy Aging

Eat hearty – and safely – this summer

Did you know that 128,000 Americans are hospitalized from food poisoning each year…or that as we age we become more at risk for such illnesses?

Age-related changes to the gastrointestinal tract, underlying chronic conditions (diabetes, cancer, etc.), changes in organ function (i.e. the liver and kidneys), and side effects caused by medication all add up to increased caution in food prep at any time of year.  However, food poisoning is more prevalent during summer months where bacteria multiply quicker and many individuals are preparing foods outdoors, making safe food handling more difficult.

The good news? The USDA’s four step food safety plan – Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill – can help prevent food poisoning this summer.

Clean: Clean surfaces, utensils and hands with soap and warm water. Wash hands the right way for 20 seconds and focus on scrubbing your palms, in between fingers, and fingertips.  When eating away from home, find out if there’s a source of potable (safe drinking) water. If not, bring water for preparation and cleaning or pack clean, wet, disposable washcloths, moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.

Separate: Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from ready-to-eat foods, fruits and vegetables.  Raw meat juices can contain bacteria that can cross-contaminate ready-to-eat foods.  If you are using a cooler, wrap raw meats and poultry securely and separately to keep their juices away from other foods in the cooler.

Cook: Cook foods to a safe internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. You cannot use color alone as an indicator of doneness.  Always bring a food thermometer along with you to verify meat and poultry are safe to eat.

    • Cook raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops and roasts to 145°F. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming.
    • Cook raw ground beef, pork, lamb and veal to 160°F.
    • Cook raw poultry to 165°F.
    • Reheat cooked foods to 165°F.

Caution: Cook meat and poultry completely at the grilling site. Partial cooking of food ahead of time allows bacteria to survive and multiply to the point that subsequent cooking cannot destroy them.

Chill: When handling food outside during warm months keep perishable foods like luncheon meats, cooked meats, chicken, and potato or pasta salads inside an insulated cooler packed with several inches of ice, ice packs or containers of frozen water. Preserve the cold temperature of the cooler by replenishing the ice as soon as it starts to melt and if traveling, keep the cooler in the coolest part of the car. Refrigerate foods within two hours after cooking, or within one hour of cooking if the temperature is 90°F or above during the summer.

If you have any questions about food safety you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist in English or Spanish at, available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday. Ask Karen also provides automated food safety information 24/7.

Bio:  Adam Ghering is a Public Affairs Specialist, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service

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