U.S. flag An official website of the United States government
  1. Home
  2. Food
  3. Resources for You (Food)
  4. Consumers
  5. People at Risk of Foodborne Illness
  6. Food Safety for Older Adults
  1. People at Risk of Foodborne Illness

Food Safety for Older Adults

Brochure cover for Food Safety for people with cancer.

A need-to-know guide for those 65 years of age and older

U.S. Department of Agriculture
Food Safety and Inspection Service

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Food and Drug Administration  

September 2006; Slightly revised September 2011

English (PDF - 3.01MB)

En español (PDF - 2.90MB)

Food safety is important for everyone – but it’s especially important for you. That’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Food and Drug Administration have prepared this booklet. It is designed to provide practical guidance on how to reduce your risk of foodborne illness. In addition to this guide, we encourage you to check with your physician or healthcare provider to indentify foods and other products that you should avoid. You have a special need for this important information . . . so read on!

When certain disease-causing bacteria, viruses or parasites contaminate food, they can cause foodborne illness.  Another word for such a bacteria, virus, or parasite is “pathogen.” Foodborne illness, often called food poisoning, is an illness that comes from a food you eat.

  • The food supply in the United States is among the safest in the world – but it can still be a source of infection for all persons.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million persons get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne infection and illness in the United States each year. Many of these people are children, older adults, or have weakened immune systems and may not be able to fight infection normally.

Since foodborne illness can be serious – or even fatal – it is important for you to know and practice safe food-handling behaviors to help reduce your risk of getting sick from contaminated food.

As we age, it is normal for our bodies not to work as well as they did when we were younger. Changes in our organs and body systems are expected as we grow older. These changes often make us more susceptible to contracting a foodborne illness or food poisoning. For example, our stomach and intestinal tract may hold on to foods for a longer period of time; our liver and kidneys may not readily rid our bodies of toxins; and our sense of taste or smell may be altered.

  • By the age of 65, many of us have been diagnosed with one or more chronic conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer, or cardiovascular disease, and are taking at least one medication. The side effects of some medications or the chronic disease process may weaken the immune system, causing older adults to be more susceptible to contracting a foodborne illness.
  • After the age of 75 years and older, many adults often have a weakened immune system and are at an increased risk for contracting a foodborne illness.
  • Essentially, as we age, our immune system and other organs in our bodies have become a bit sluggish in recognizing and ridding the body of harmful bacteria and other pathogens that cause infections, such as foodborne illness. Should older adults contract a foodborne illness, you are more likely to have a lengthier illness, undergo hospitalization, or even die.
  • To avoid contracting a foodborne illness, older adults must be especially vigilant when handling, preparing, and consuming foods.

Make safe handling a lifelong commitment to minimize your risk of foodborne illness. Be aware that as you age, your immunity to infection naturally is weakened.

Download the Guide for Information on these Topics:

  • Major Pathogens That Cause Foodborne Illness
  • Eating at Home: Making Wise Food Choices
  • Common Foods: Select the Lower Risk Options
  • Taking Care: Handling and Preparing Food Safely
  • Cold Storage Chart
  • In the Know: Becoming a Better Shopper
  • Food Product Dating
  • Food Product Dating
  • Transporting Your Groceries
  • Tips for Transporting Food
  • Foodborne Illness: Know the Symptoms
  • Foodborne Illness Action Plan

English (PDF - 3.01MB)

En español (PDF - 2.90MB)


Additional Information from FDA

Additional Information from Other Federal Government Agencies