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Safe food for older people - advice for businesses

Older people have a higher risk of getting foodborne illness and suffering serious health complications from eating unsafe food. It is important for older people to enjoy a wide range of foods for good nutrition, but extra care must be taken to ensure their food is safe. 

If you're a business that provides food to older people, basic steps you can take when selecting, preparing and providing food are outlined below. If that's your primary activity, you are likely to need a food safety program (see below, under Advice for Managers).

Selecting and receiving safe food

Always make sure the food you select or receive is from a trusted source, in good condition and at a safe temperature. Packaged food must be securely packaged (undamaged), and clearly identified with the supplier’s details for traceability.

Some foods contain ingredients that make the food safer for older adults. For example, to reduce the chance of Listeria bacteria growing in a food product, sometimes certain acids (known as ‘antimicrobial agents’) are added to it. These acids are often applied to ready-to-eat deli meats before they are packaged. They do not change the taste or appearance of the meats.

  • If buying processed meats, look for ingredients such as sodium lactate, sodium diacetate, potassium lactate or acetic acid. Packaged meat products with these ingredients will be lower risk for illness from Listeria.
  • See the Menu design section below for other lower risk food options.

Date markings

Manufacturers’ date markings and instructions should always be followed. Package dates may be labelled as ‘Best before’, ‘Use by’ or other words, depending on what the product is.

  • For older people, products should not be used past their Use by date or Best before date. It is recommended to buy food with the latest Use by or Best before date, to give time to eat it safely.
  • Once a food has been opened, the package date no longer appliesit is generally safest to use up ready-to-eat refrigerated food within a day. Marking a date/day on food after it has been sliced or opened will help you remember when it needs to be used by.

Menu design

Providing a wide variety of nutritious foods for residents encourages eating and reduces boredom with meals. However, some foods pose a higher risk because they may contain harmful bacteria such as Listeria, Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli.

  • Higher risk foods include ready-to-eat cold meats, seafood and poultry; pre-made vegetable or fruit salads; soft cheeses; raw sprouts and raw or lightly cooked egg dishes.
  • Lower risk options include meats cooked and sliced on site, cooked fish, cooked sprouts, hard style cheeses, freshly prepared salads and shelf-stable pâté and pastes.
  • More information on higher risk foods and safer alternatives is on our Food safety for vulnerable people web page.


Certain foods can cause some people to have an allergic reaction. Reactions can vary in severity from mild upsets to potentially fatal anaphylaxis.

  • Allergenic hazards should be managed through appropriate control measures, including:
    • providing information on the presence of allergens
    • checking ingredients
    • preventing cross contact if an allergen-free meal is prepared.
  • More information on allergens is available from our Allergen portal web site.

Sliced meats

Sliced meats can be a higher risk for Listeria. To reduce the risk:

  • Cook and prepare deli meats (turkey, chicken, ham, beef, silverside) on site. Buying whole portions then slicing them at the facility is a safer option than buying pre-sliced product. If you are unable to slice meat, buy meat from a registered business with a Listeria management program.
  • Sliced meat should be kept for no more than one day. If the meat is still whole (unsliced), it should be kept for no more than 7 days.
  • Check the ingredients for antimicrobial agents (see Selecting and receiving safe food).
  • Regularly clean and sanitise all equipment to avoid cross-contamination. Disassemble equipment such as meat slicers for a thorough job.
  • Throw out uneaten ready-to-eat food after one day.

Texture-modified foods

Texture-modified foods need special care to keep them safe, as they are made with equipment that can be easily contaminated (e.g. stick blenders or mincers).

  • When processing food, limit the time food is out of refrigeration e.g. follow the 2-hour/4-hour rule.
  • Make sure all equipment is regularly and thoroughly cleaned and sanitised to avoid cross-contamination. Disassemble blending and mincing equipment as necessary to ensure a thorough job.
  • Throw out leftover refrigerated food after one day.

Milkshakes and nutritional supplements

When preparing shakes and powdered supplements, hygiene is especially important. If these foods get contaminated, bacteria can grow rapidly in them, and there is no cooking step to kill any bacteria present.

  • Make sure hands, equipment and the preparation space are clean.
  • Minimise the time prepared items are left on the bench – serve them immediately or refrigerate as soon as possible. Where nutritional supplements are prepared in batches, refrigerate them and use within 48 hours.
  • Discard any unfinished shakes.
  • Make sure all equipment is regularly and thoroughly cleaned and sanitised to avoid cross-contamination. Disassemble blending equipment as necessary to ensure a thorough job.

Advice for food handlers

  • Food handlers must meet health and hygiene requirements in the Food Safety Standards. These requirements include washing your hands, protecting food from contamination and reporting to your supervisor if you are unwell or may have contaminated food.
  • Make sure you know what you need to know to do your job – to be sure you always prepare or serve food that is safe for the residents.
  • Always follow the food safety basics: cook food thoroughly, keep things clean, keep cold food cold and hot food hot, and keep ready-to-eat food separate from raw food.
  • For more complex cooking processes (e.g. sous vide or cook-chill), always follow validated procedures to ensure the food is safely prepared.
  • Check in with residents to see how their meal is going and if they need help storing and/ or reheating leftovers. Be conscious of the 2-hour/4-hour rule for food brought out of the fridge.
  • Talk to visitors and make sure they know about safe food practices if they bring foods into the facility.

Advice for managers

  • All food businesses in Australia are required to produce safe and suitable food under the Food Safety Standards. The requirements cover all food handling steps, cleaning and sanitising, food handler skills and knowledge, and the food premises and equipment.
  • Australian businesses providing food to vulnerable people—such as aged care facilities, hospitals and delivered meal organisations—are also required to implement a validated food safety program.
  • Know the local rules and regulations that apply to your food business. Each state and territory may have different requirements. Check with your local council or state/territory food regulatory agency.
  • Check there are adequate control measures and monitoring in place, especially for all higher risk foods. Regularly review these to be sure food safety risks are being properly managed.
  • Ensure staff have received food safety training that is appropriate to their tasks and up to date. Also ensure they understand the importance of their role in preparing and serving food that is safe for older people.

More information

For more information on food safety, see our InfoBite fact sheets or contact your food regulatory agency.

Below is a list of resources that may help businesses with developing or updating a food safety program.



Food safety programs for high risk food businesses 

Vulnerable populations food safety programs template 

New South Wales

Food safety programs HACCP 

Vulnerable persons 

Food safety program guidelines  

Northern Territory 

NT Department of Health  


Develop a food safety program 

Food safety program template – private hospitals 

South Australia

Food safety for businesses 

Aged care centre food safety requirements 

Template for aged care facilities   


Food safety resources 

Generic food safety template 


Food safety programs 

Food safety audits 

Guide for healthcare facilities: Management of Listeria monocytogenes

Western Australia 

Regulatory food safety auditing for food businesses 

Regulatory food safety auditing – Information for food businesses 

Food safety program – For delivered meals organisations

Page last updated 5 March 2024