“You have to rely often on getting something steaming hot that looks to you well cooked,” she says. “A thermometer is best. But cooking your meat products really well is very important.”
Common foodborne germs: Campylobacter, Clostridium perfringens, E. coli, salmonella, Yersinia
Safety tips: Ignore recipes that advise rinsing raw meats with water. The practice doesn’t make your food any safer, and splashed water can spread germs from the raw meat to other food, utensils and surfaces.
Always make sure your meat is sufficiently cooked. Older adults who prefer the taste of rare beef or pork are taking a risk, Griffin says.
Leftovers should be refrigerated at 40 degrees or colder within two hours of preparation. Large cuts of meat should be portioned into small quantities to cool fast enough and prevent bacteria from growing.
2. Fruits and vegetables
Produce can pick up germs anywhere along the way, from the farm where it was grown to the store where it was sold — even from your kitchen counter once you get it home. Proper washing is the key to safety.
“On a per-serving basis, raw vegetables are not horribly risky except for certain ones, like sprouts,” Griffin says. “Vegetables and fruit are a really important part of a healthy diet, and there are so many wonderful ways to cook vegetables, and they are delicious.”
Common foodborne germs: Salmonella, E. coli, listeria
Safety tips: Before and after preparing any produce, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm soap and water. Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating.
When washing produce, always use running water. Soaking may remove the germs initially, but the now-tainted water can recontaminate the fruits and vegetables as well as contaminate nearby surfaces. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t recommend using soap, detergent or commercial produce wash.
3. Raw milk and cheese products
The routing availability of pasteurized milk became widespread in the U.S. by the 1950s and significantly reduced the number of people who became ill from raw milk and raw-milk products such as soft cheeses. The pasteurization process involves heating raw milk to a high enough temperature for a long enough time to kill dangerous particles, according to the CDC.
“Unpasteurized milk is risky because if you make a mistake with one or a few cows, you may not just get that udder perfectly clean, and then you’ve contaminated that entire batch,” Griffin says.
Although the pasteurization process inactivates some of the milk’s enzymes, scientists do not believe those enzymes are critical to dairy health benefits.
Common foodborne germs: Brucella, campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, E. coli, listeria, salmonella
Safety tips: If you have raw milk, you can pasteurize it at home by heating it to 165 degrees for 15 seconds using an oven or double boiler. You can also eat raw cheese safely if you cook it thoroughly.
Eggs usually get contaminated when a hen has an infection around the tissues of its ovaries, which can introduce salmonella into its egg. Eggs are less likely to be contaminated today, though, than they were in the 1980s and early 1990s because producers have worked to decrease infections that cause the bacteria.
“Most batches of eggs are going to be completely safe,” Griffin says. “But some batches are going to be from a chicken that was stressed enough that salmonella was coming out as they laid their egg, and your risk of getting sick is going to be increased.”
Common foodborne germ: Salmonella
Safety tips: Avoid foods that contain raw or undercooked eggs, like handmade (not commercially bottled) Caesar salad dressing, eggnog and raw dough. Cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm, and keep them refrigerated at a minimum of 40 degrees.
5. Seafood and raw shellfish
Vibrio are bacteria that live in healthy seawater, so shellfish containing vibrio aren’t technically contaminated. Still, the bacteria can lead to an infection called vibriosis, which poses significant health risks to those 65 and older. Contaminated shellfish can also contain norovirus, which can cause symptoms in older adults that may lead to dehydration.