Food-borne Illness & an Aging Population

The elderly are more susceptible to food-borne illnesses and more likely to have severe, even fatal illnesses as a result. The most common food-borne illness now is Norovirus. While much time and attention has been paid to the control of time and temperature measures for foods, norovirus is best attacked by simple hand washing.

Norovirus is almost always transmitted to food directly by the hands of a food worker via the oral-fecal route. Important control measures include thorough hand washing and the avoidance of bare-hand contact with ready to eat food. The ingestion of only a few microorganisms can cause illness. Elderly people can become very ill and severely dehydrated by vomiting and diarrhea, both symptoms of Norovirus and other food-borne illnesses. In an elder-care facility, norovirus can spread from person to person very quickly.

Food workers need to keep in mind the increasing susceptibility of the population to all food-borne illnesses by following these requirements:
  • Follow safe cooking, thawing, and refrigeration practices
  • Provide a consumer advisory for any foods that are served raw or undercooked, and list on the advisory any foods with hidden raw ingredients such as dressings.
  • Ensure food handlers wash hands often and always:
    • before engaging in food preparation
    • after touching bare human body parts
    • after using the toilet room
    • after coughing, sneezing, smoking, eating or drinking
    • after handling soiled equipment or utensils
    • when switching between working with raw food and working with ready-to-eat food
    • before donning gloves
  • Ensure that food handlers do not touch ready-to-eat food with their bare hands.
  • Exclude employees from a work if a food employee is diagnosed with an infectious agent transmissible by food.
  • Restrict food employees from working with exposed food; clean equipment, utensils, linens and unwrapped single-service and single-use articles. Also restrict any food employee who has diarrhea, fever, vomiting, jaundice and/or sore throat with fever.
As the face of food-borne illness continues to change and the elderly populations grows larger, the food industry must prepare for a likely rise in food-borne illnesses, and take measures now to prevent this scenario.

Norovirus in Long-Term Care Facilities