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Millions of seniors become sick each year from food borne illnesses and food poisoning. Food-borne illnesses are caused by eating food that is contaminated with bacteria. Most of these illnesses are preventable by checking expiry dates, throwing out food in your refrigerator that has spoiled and by handling food properly. Holding onto large quantities of canned goods regardless of the expiry dates can also be a sign of hoarding in a senior. Since seniors quite often have weakened immune systems they are less able to fight off infection. Bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella can kill them.

Symptoms and signs of food-borne illness can include:

  • Fever, headache and nausea
  • Cramps, vomiting and diarrhea







If a senior loved one is on a tight budget or doesn’t like the idea of throwing food out, they may be more at risk of food-borne illnesses. Check with their doctor to find out if they have shown any of the above symptoms. Go shopping with them and help them to work out a budget. Find out if they are storing food properly and washing their hands before cooking. For those with cognitive issues they may be less aware of how to handle food in order to avoid illness.

In order to prevent food-borne illnesses:

  • A separate cutting board should be used for meat
  • Rinse fruit and vegetables thoroughly
  • Throw out all leftovers in the refrigerator after 3 days
  • Check all expiry dates on food
  • Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator, not at room temperature
  • Refrigerate food as soon as it is bought


Some food carries a higher risk of food-borne illness and seniors should avoid those. They include raw or undercooked meats, deli items and unpasteurized dairy products. When checking on a senior loved one, look for these products in their home and also check that stoves, refrigerators and countertops are clean. To find out more information on seniors and spoiled food, click here.