Its Food Safety week this month, and a good time to remind resident’s families of the importance of safe food handling practises when bringing in food for their loved ones. As most residents are elderly, they have weaker immune systems and take longer to recover from food poisoning. They are also more likely to suffer more severe consequences for example: neuromuscular dysfunction or even death.
Devising a policy in regards to the safety of food brought in by family members or friends is a strategy that can help minimise the risk of food poisoning incidences. On admission, families can be educated about your policy guidelines to ensure they are aware of the risks, and how to safely provide food.
Facility guidelines and visitor education should focus on the following food safety strategies and risks:
- Food that are of higher risk of containing Listeria should be limited, including: foods made with raw egg such as home-made egg mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce, uncooked cakes and desserts and egg-nog.
- Encourage hand hygiene during the preparation of foods.
- Defrosting of chilled/frozen foods should be done in the refrigerator and left there until brought into the facility. Food should never be left at room temperature.
- When transporting, Food should be protected from contamination. Food should be kept at 5°C or cooler or hot food, at 60°C or hotter. Between 5°C and 60°C is known as the temperature danger zone (harmful bacteria multiply to dangerous levels in food when it is kept between these temperatures).
- Cold food should be carried in a cooler with ice packs when travelling. It must be emphasised that coolers can’t cool food, they can only keep cold food cool. Food should be chilled in the fridge first.
- Hot food is difficult to keep hot and is best avoided if visitors are travelling long distances, it is better to chill the food overnight and reheat it at the residence.
- Facilities will have different rules about reheating food provided by friends or relatives. Ensure families are aware of your guidelines.
- Food needs to be reheated to a minimum of 75°C for two minutes to kill any bacteria or viruses that might be present in the food.
- Frozen food should be completely thawed before reheating.
- If foods are to be reheated a microwave, ensure that the food is heated evenly. Food heated in a microwave oven does not heat uniformly and unwanted germs may survive in portions of poorly heated food. Manufacturers recommend standing times to help alleviate the problem of uneven heating. How evenly the food will heat will also depend on the thickness of portions and on the composition and moisture content of the food.
- If some or all of any perishable food is not eaten immediately, ask families to inform staff and store the food in a refrigerator.
- Some residents may like to keep extra food in their rooms in drawers or bedside tables for eating later. This is safe for shelf stable foods like biscuits and chocolates yet can be very risky with perishable food such as cold meats, seafood, custard or cream filled cakes, salads, cooked vegetables and meat dishes. Be aware some residents may also forget how long the food has been there.