- Author: Mary L Blackburn
- Author: Katherine Uhde
At risk seniors at three low-income housing sites in Alameda County strengthened their food safety skills, reducing their chances of foodborne illnesses.
Seniors with diminished learning and retention capacity, physical impairments, on multiple medicines, and with weakened immune systems are less able to fight foodborne pathogens. Adults over 60 years are more likely to have complications, be hospitalized, and die because of foodborne infections. About 80% of the seniors in the US have at least one chronic condition and 50% at least two. In California, at least 55% of seniors over age 65 suffer from hypertension; 24% from heart disease; 17% diagnosed with cancer; nearly 15% with diabetes, and 10% with asthma. UCCE Alameda Advisor Mary Blackburn's research found up to 40% of low-income housing seniors living with multiple nutrition and lifestyle related chronic diseases. Safe food handling by consumers in their homes and community is among the nutrition recommendations for adults over age 50, and is integral and necessary for a comprehensive healthy living program.
How UC Delivers
In 2014, UCCE Alameda Advisor Mary Blackburn, with a specialist and other advisors, published research on the Make Food Safe for Seniors initiative from ten counties assessing the food safety practices and food behaviors of seniors living with multiple chronic diseases. They developed food safety materials addressing the identified needs, and pilot tested it with over 700 seniors, caregivers, and senior volunteers. In 2019, a UC ANR Master Food Preserver and UC CalFresh Healthy Living staff person conducted safe food handling workshops using the Make Food Safe for Seniors materials with pre- and post-tests. The training reached 80 seniors in three low-income housing sites. Overall, nearly 86% of participants said the training was helpful, and would share food safety information and handouts with friends and neighbors.
Research shows seniors have lower levels of knowledge retention compared to young adults, however the results were positive, and showed that Make Food Safe for Seniors participants increased knowledge in multiple areas.
- 32% knew produce, raw meat, poultry, unwashed hands, and insects are sources of harmful bacteria -- compared to 7% at the start
- 32% understood appearance, odor, and taste do not correctly determine if food is safe to eat -- an increase from 14%
- 36% knew washing meat and poultry is not recommended -- an increase from 7%
- 54% knew to use a thermometer to check temperatures of cooked food -- compared to 28% at the start
- 54% knew to leave perishable food un-refrigerated for 2 hours when the room temperature was less than 90 degrees -- compared to 14% at the start
- 67% knew the correct refrigerator temperature (< 40 degrees Fahrenheit) -- an increase from 14%
- 71% knew raw food should be stored below ready-to-eat foods in the refrigerator -- compared to 14% at the start
- 75% knew to leave perishable food un-refrigerated for ONLY one hour when the room temperature was 90 degrees and above -- compared to 46% at the start
Additionally, most participants agreed that in the future they would defrost meats in the refrigerator instead of on the counter or in the sink, clean their hands, use refrigerator and freezer thermometers, cook and store food properly, and check food temperatures. These measured changes demonstrate improvements in understanding and intent to change food handling behaviors. Similar research showed that food safety education improved safe food-handling practices among low-income elders participating in congregate meal programs and home-delivered meal programs. As workshop participants implement the practices they learned it should help reduce incidences of foodborne illness amongst this vulnerable population. In this way, UC ANR is contributing to improved food safety and safeguarding abundant and healthy food for all Californians.