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Food-borne illness signs for seniors

Food safety is a vital part of staying well. Each year about 76 million people in our country become ill from eating contaminated foods. Thousands are hospitalized and about 5,000 die.

These illnesses come from eating foods that are contaminated with bacteria, viruses or parasites.

Older adults are at increased risk of contracting a food-borne illness. As we age, our bodies produce less stomach acid, making it harder to get rid of harmful bacteria that enter our digestive system.

Our digestion may slow down, allowing harmful bacteria to stay in our bodies longer. Changes in smell and taste can also keep us from knowing when food is spoiled.

An older person who gets a food-borne illness is likely to be sicker longer, and if hospitalized, is likely to have a longer hospital stay.

Why do food-borne illnesses seem more prevalent today? People are eating more meals outside of the home and consuming more food prepared by others. Much of our food is delivered over long distances. Also, harmful bacteria that are more resistant to drugs are finding their way onto foods.

Many food-borne illnesses are caused by bacteria like E. coli and salmonella. These can cause serious health problems and these illnesses can be dangerous.

If you get a food-borne illness, you might have upset stomach, abdominal pain, vomiting or diarrhea. Or, you could have flu-like symptoms with a fever, headache and body aches.

Many times people think their food-borne illness was caused by their last meal, but that may not be true. The time between eating the contaminated food and the onset of illness can vary widely.

Usually, food-borne bacteria take one to three days to cause illness. But you could become sick any time from 30 minutes to three weeks after eating some foods with dangerous bacteria.

If you think you have a food-borne illness you should:

• Contact your health care provider and seek treatment as necessary.

• Preserve the food in question. Wrap it securely, label it "Do Not Eat" and freeze it. It may be used to diagnose your illness and prevent others from getting sick.

• Save all packaging materials such as cans or cartons. Save any identical unopened products.

• Report your illness to the hotline at the Minnesota Department of Health at 1-877-foodill. They will inform your local county health department if you became ill from food you ate at a local restaurant or other eating establishment so they can investigate.

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Feel free to contact Mary at (320) 762-3047 with any questions you have regarding senior citizen issues.

Reminder: Caregiver Support Group meets from 2 to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, August 14 at First Lutheran Church. All caregivers welcome.