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Sam Bauman: A check on food poisoning risks for seniors

Sam Bauman
For the Nevada Appeal
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Lots of press of late about hamburger meats with contamination. And I came across an article in the Mayo Clinic Health Letter on the general subject.

Seniors can perhaps be more at risk of food poisoning than the general population. That’s because we tend to eat leftovers that haven’t been properly refrigerated, or that we dine on hamburgers with a pink center after cooking. We tend to be more careless in the kitchen and not washing our hands often enough.

It has been estimated that one out of six Americans suffer food or beverage poisoning annually. Much of the danger comes from food processing at major companies, but home problems are common.

Here’s what the Down to Earth organization reported:

“Every day in the U.S. about 200,000 people become sick, 900 are hospitalized and 14 die due to foodborne illness. According to the Center for Disease Control, about one-quarter of the American population suffers from food poisoning each year. Despite the government’s attempts at implementing food safety standards, food borne illness has become an increasingly frequent and widespread problem in the United States.”

Food poisoning symptoms can appear within hours of eating contaminated foods. Common are nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever or diarrhea. Most of us can weather food poisoning with rest and drinking fluids such as fruit juice, sports drinks or oral wetting drinks, with a gradual reintroduction to foods.

Mayo Clinic noted 30 years ago, food poisoning occurred mostly in small outbreaks at social events like family reunions, picnics, and parties, and was caused by improper food handling. Today we are experiencing a whole new breed of food poisoning; it is now possible for thousands of individuals from all corners of the nation to contract an identical foodborne illnesses. In 1993 more than 700 people in four different states became sick from E. coli 0157:H7 contaminated Jack in the Box hamburgers. In August of 1997, Hudson Foods, a major hamburger supplier for Burger King, recalled 35 million pounds of ground beef — the largest food recall in the nation’s history — as a result of a major E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak. In the past eight years about half of a million Americans have become sick from E. coli 0157:H7.

Foodborne illnesses can become life threatening particularly among older adults, infants, pregnant women and those living with chronic diseases with continuing symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting or inability to keep fluids down. Blood in the stools or in vomit suggest medical help or even an antibiotic if the infection is bacterial.

Here’s some safety steps to take at home:

Keep hands clean with frequent soap and water washings, before and after handling food. Wash cutting boards and tools that have come into contact with foods.

Wash fruits and vegetables that are not peeled an eaten raw, such as berries or leafy greens.

Make sure that juices from meat, poultry, fish and shellfish are kept away from separate foods at all times. Make sure juices from raw or undercooked meat don’t reach other foods. And despite the advice to always wash chicken over the sink, don’t do it. That splashes contamination around. Wipe the chicken with paper towels.

Use a food thermometer to make sure ground beef is cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit and steaks and roasts to 145. Heat poultry to 165 degrees and make sure fish and shellfish are well cooked.

Don’t have perishable foods at room temperatures for more than two hours or above 90 degrees for more than an hour.

Thaw foods in the refrigerator. If you thaw in the microwave or in water, cook at once.

Use cooked leftovers within four days or freeze for later. Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees and bring soups, gravies and sauces to boiling.

If you aren’t sure, foods have been prepared, served or stored safely, toss it away. And don’t taste anything you’re not sure is safe.

An easy exercise for skiing preparation

Here’s a very simple exercise that can help get you ready to hit the ski slopes. Not violent and very much like being on the hill. I don’t know what the individual PT trainers would say about it, but it makes sense to me. Here it is.

Dig out your ski poles and find a nice unobstructed, open place.

Sink to the basic skiing position of knees bent, body leaning forward just as in skiing.

Hold the poles away from the hips, pointed backward. Sway your body in one direction, flexing the ankles as if making the phantom edges carve in the imaginary snow.

Rise and repeat in the other direction, flexing ankles for edging. Always thrust the body strongly in the direction you’re going.

You’ll find it easy to establish a rhythm just as on the run. I do at least 25 “turns” each day, working up to 50 by the time snow gladdens our hearts.

Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.