Avoid Getting Sick from Your Food


For an older person, a food-related illness can be life threatening. As you age, you have more trouble fighting off microbes. Health problems, like diabetes or kidney disease, also make you more likely to get sick from eating foods that are unsafe. So if you are over age 65, be very careful about how food is prepared and stored.

Start at the Store: Prevent Foodborne Illness

You can help prevent foodborne illness, starting at the store with safe food handling. Watch this U.S. Food and Drug Administration video to learn more about keeping food safe.

Foods that might make you sick

washing vegetablesSome foods can be dangerous for an older person no matter what—so, if you are over 65, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends you avoid:

  • raw or undercooked fish, shellfish, meat, and poultry
  • refrigerated smoked fish (for example, lox)
  • hot dogs, deli meats, and luncheon meats (unless these are reheated to 165 °F)
  • raw or unpasteurized milk and milk products
  • soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, including feta, brie, camembert, blue, and queso fresco
  • raw or undercooked eggs or egg product, as found in cookie dough, eggnog, and some salad dressings
  • raw sprouts
  • unwashed fresh vegetables including lettuce
  • unpasteurized juice from fruits and vegetables

Changing taste and smell

As you grow older, your senses of taste and smell might change. Or medicines might make things taste different. If you can’t rely on your sense of taste or smell to tell that food is spoiled, be extra careful about how you handle your food. If something might not look, smell, or taste right, throw it out—don’t take a chance with your health.

Smart Storage

food containers in a refrigeratorFood safety starts with storing your food properly. Sometimes that’s as simple as following directions on the container. For example, if the label says “refrigerate after opening,” do that! It’s also a good idea to keep any canned and packaged items in a cool place.

When you are ready to use a packaged food, check the date on the label. That bottle of juice might have been in your cabinet so long it is now out of date. (See Reading the Food Label to learn more about understanding the date on the food label.)

Try to use refrigerated leftovers within 3 or 4 days to reduce your risk of food poisoning. Throw away foods older than that or those that show moldy areas.

For recommended refrigerator and freezer storage times for common foods, download our Storing Cold Food tip sheet (PDF, 75K).

What's On Your Plate? is based on the nutrition recommendations for older adults in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).