Immune function tends to decline with age. As a result, risk of infections, inflammatory conditions, and cancer tends to increase with age. In addition, antibiotics used to treat infections are not as effective if the immune system is compromised. Furthermore, a compromised immune system can reduce the body's ability to respond to influenza and pneumonia vaccinations.

Adults age 65 and older are at a higher risk for hospitalization and death from foodborne illness. This increased risk of foodborne illness is because organs and body systems go through changes as people age. The gastrointestinal tract holds onto food for a longer period of time, allowing bacteria to grow. The liver and kidneys may not properly rid the body of foreign bacteria and toxins. The stomach may not produce enough acid. The acidity helps to reduce the number of bacteria in our intestinal tract. Underlying chronic conditions, such as diabetes and cancer, may also increase a person's risk of foodborne illness.

Learn about safer food choices for people with a higher risk for foodborne illness, including older adults. If you are 65 or older, or prepare food for someone who is, always follow the four steps. Clean: Clean hands, food contact surfaces, and vegetables and fruits. Separate: Separate raw, cooked, and ready-to-eat foods while shopping, storing, and preparing foods. Cook: Cook foods to a safe temperature. Chill: Refrigerate perishable foods promptly.

Following safe food handling practices can lower the risk of foodborne illness. Many foodborne illnesses are caused by unsafe food handling practices in the home. Some food handling practices that can lower the risk of food safety problems in the home are washing hands, thoroughly rinsing vegetables and fruits, preventing cross-contamination, cooking foods to safe internal temperatures, and storing foods safely.

The immune system helps the body defend itself against foodborne pathogens. However, the immune system tends to decline with age. This is one reason why the risk of foodborne illness increases with age.

For more information, or to schedule a program locally about financial management, nutrition, health and wellness, parenting education, or Oklahoma Home and Community Education, contact the OSU Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County by phone at 918-456-6163.

Heather Winn is a family and consumer sciences educator for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County.

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