Approximately 27 million meals are served in long-term care facilities daily. The people who consume those 189 million meals a week at assisted living facilities, hospices, adult day service centers, nursing homes, and other such facilities are often at a higher risk for foodborne illnesses.

Why Are Seniors at a Greater Risk for Foodborne Illnesses

Why Are Seniors at a Greater Risk for Foodborne Illnesses?

As a person ages, food goes through the gastrointestinal tract more slowly, which gives bacteria more time to grow. At the same time, the immune system is not as fast at warding off diseases as it is when a person is younger. Further compounding the issue, the liver and kidney lose some of their efficiency. 

Since many seniors do not produce as much stomach acid as they did when they were younger, there is a higher bacteria count in a senior’s gastrointestinal tract. Underlying health issues, like cancer and diabetes, can put a person at a higher risk. Finally, long-term antibiotics kill off good bacteria. 

Facility Conditions Enhance the Likelihood of Foodborne Illnesses

Facility Conditions Enhance the Likelihood of Foodborne Illnesses

Residents are also at a higher risk because they are always around other people in confined spaces. The Center for Medicaid and Medicare pays for annual inspections of long-term care facilities kitchens and food-storage areas to be inspected annually. Issues can exist for a year before the review and another year before the inspector returns to make sure they are corrected. 

Long-term Care Facilities Foodborne Illness Statistics

The cost of treating foodborne illnesses tops $77.7 billion annually. Yet, there are very few studies of foodborne diseases in care facilities. The few that have been done often center around norovirus, a highly contagious pathogen that is easily transmitted.

Approximately 675 norovirus deaths occur annually in the United States, with the very young and the elderly accounting for most of those deaths. About 1,000 seniors came down with campylobacter annually, and about 310 of them must be hospitalized. About the same number come down with salmonella, but approximately 480 of them were hospitalized. 

What Can Be Done About the Safety of Food in Long-term Care Facilities? 

It takes a team effort to prevent foodborne illnesses. Food must be purchased from approved vendors and appropriately stored. Correct cooking procedures must always be followed by well-trained staff. When food is stored, it must be stored according to recommended guidelines and discarded as needed. 

Everyone must work together to solve the problem because, without intervention, it will become bigger as the population continues to age. Use Medcom courses to give all facility staff the training that they need in recognizing safety hazards, treating illnesses, keeping the kitchen clean, staying well, preventing kitchen-related injuries, and preparing food safely.