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Making food safer for seniors

The Issue

Food-borne illness affects one out of four Americans yearly, and the number of cases reported are increasing. Increased cases are due to eating more foods prepared away from the home, emerging food-borne pathogens, an aging population and more young children eating away from home. About 26 percent of food-borne illnesses in California are picked up in community locations, 46 percent in restaurants, 19 percent in homes, and 6 percent in schools. Because of weakened immune systems and ebbing memory, seniors are particularly vulnerable to food-borne illnesses.

What Has ANR Done?

Make Food Safe for Seniors is a food safety program aimed at older Californians who eat in group settings, receive home-delivered meals, and have their food served by in-home caregivers. The program is a joint education initiative of UC Cooperative Extension's aging and food safety workgroups and ten collaborating counties. This collaborative is a multidisciplinary campus and county team of UC Davis scientists and UCCE specialists, advisors and community nutrition educators in Alameda, Amador, Calaveras, Los Angeles, Kern, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Riverside, Solano and Yolo counties. Make Food Safe for Seniors trained more than 230 caregivers and servers, 50 percent of whom were non-senior agency staff and volunteers less than age 50. Fifty percent were 50 or over, and of those 21 percent were seniors 60 or over. One county pilot tested the food safety training curriculum with 35 in-home caregivers, some of whom (20 percent) were seniors themselves.

The Payoff

Trainees learn safe food handling skills

The program's outcome was evaluated with pre- and post-tests and follow-up evaluations. Trainees were 63 percent white, 13 percent Asian/Pacific Islanders and 13 percent African American. The pre-test showed that, before participating in training, significant numbers needed an increased level of food safety knowledge in sources of harmful bacteria, safe handling of meat, cross contamination, who is at higher risk, and how to assess if food is safe. The overall knowledge gained raised the average pre-test score of 60 percent to an average post-test score of 76 percent.

The participants rated the training overall as 4 out of 5 in usefulness. The researchers noted that knowledge gained among this mixed group of mature and middle-aged adults and seniors was not as high as that found in prior trainings for younger audiences of ANR staff and volunteers. Future plans are to continue to assess food safety and food behaviors of in-home caregivers and seniors, and use these data to develop nutrition education and food safety curricula for both senior and non-senior in-home caregivers and senior volunteers in California.

Clientele Testimonial

Some comments from participants:
"Sometimes I forget to put food away."
"I wash meat because my mom did it."
"I did not know bacteria grew so fast."
"I hate to throw away what looks like perfectly good food."


Supporting Unit:

UC Davis, Alameda County, Amador County, Calaveras County, Los Angeles County, Kern County, Sacramento County, San Joaquin County, Riverside County, Solano County, and Yolo County.
Mary L Blackburn, (510) 639-1274, mlblackburn@ucdavis.edu

Christine Bruhn, (530) 752 2774, cmbruhn@ucdavis.edu