Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.
Skip to main content

Food safety for older people

As people age, their bodies go through changes that increase their risk of getting sick from food poisoning (foodborne illness). Some of these changes are:

  • the immune response becomes weaker
  • the stomach produces less acid, killing less bacteria
  • food travels more slowly through the gut, allowing bacteria to grow
  • development of underlying health issues and use of medications
  • general health changes due to food choices and nutrient absorption.

These changes mean it is easier for harmful microorganisms (bacteria and viruses) in food to make older people sick. They are also more likely to develop serious complications from food poisoning compared with healthy people under the age of 65.

It is important for older people to enjoy a wide range of foods for good nutrition. However, extra care must be taken to be sure their food is safe. Some basic things you can do when choosing, preparing and providing food for older people are summarised below.

Preparing food at home

To safely prepare and eat food at home, it’s recommended to:

  • Choose lower risk foods (see our Food safety for vulnerable people page).
  • Wash and dry hands before preparing food, and after touching raw meat and eggs.
  • Clean cooking utensils and food preparation surfaces often (especially after handling raw foods).
  • Thoroughly cook all raw meat, chicken, fish and eggs. Generally, cooking to an internal temperature of 75oC means the food is safe—check the thickest part with a clean food thermometer.
  • Rapidly cool cooked food (e.g. divide it into smaller portions and place it in the fridge once it stops steaming).
  • Don’t let food sit for hours between 5°C and 60°C—keep cold foods cold, and hot foods hot!
  • When storing foods in the fridge, separate raw meat from cooked meat and other ready-to-eat foods—cover and store raw meat on a tray on the bottom shelf, so no meat juices drip onto other foods.
  • Choose and consume foods well within their ‘Use by’ or ‘Best before’ date. Once opened, eat them promptly (within a day is safest).
  • Regularly check Use by dates of foods in your fridge. If in doubt – throw it out!
  • Do not eat leftovers that are more than one or two days old.
  • Reheat foods rapidly (with a microwave or stove) until they are steaming hot all the way through.
  • Check the fridge is running at 5oC or colder, and keep it clean.

Dining out

When eating out, it’s recommended to:

  • Choose foods that are lower risk (see our Food safety for vulnerable people web page).
  • Eat only freshly prepared food—including freshly cooked foods and well-washed fruits and vegetables.
  • Check if hot foods are steaming hot—don’t eat them if they are lukewarm.
  • Consider avoiding ready-to-eat foods from salad bars, sandwich bars, delicatessens and smorgasbords.
  • Ask questions about when how and when the food was prepared.

Bringing food to older people

When bringing foods to older adults at their home or in a facility, it’s recommended to:

  • Take extra care when handling food—see the safe food practices above.
  • Check for special dietary requirements, including allergies and texture modification.
  • Check with facility staff if it is OK to bring in foods from outside sources.
  • Keep food safe during transport: keep it cold (5°C or cooler) or hot (60°C or hotter). Use insulated containers and bags, ice, ice bricks, hot packs, etc.
  • Make sure food is reheated to steaming hot, all the way through (at least 75°C in the centre).
  • Store leftovers safely in a refrigerator—this includes checking Use by dates, and labelling the product when it is open and when it needs to be used by.

More information

For more information on preparing and bringing food to family or friends in aged care, see the Food Safety Information Council’s web pages:

People at risk - preparing food for the vulnerable

Food safety advice about bringing food to family or friends in aged care

Page last updated 29 February 2024