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Make Food Safety a Priority

In this difficult time of physical distancing and curtailed outdoor activities, it’s heartening to see the outpouring of generosity to older adults from friends and neighbors, often in the form of donated meals. It’s also wonderful to see those pitching in by doing the shopping, cooking, or food delivery to older adults in need. Whether you are a home cook, a recipient of a pre-made covered dish on your doorstep, or a caregiver preparing food for your loved one, it’s a great time to remember basic food safety practices.

Here are some Food Safety 101 tips for now, during this crisis, and anytime:

1. Wash hands and all kitchen surfaces thoroughly

Pay attention to personal hygiene: wash your hands for 20 seconds before, after, and while preparing food. Also, keep countertops and cutting boards clean.

2. Clean and separate food items

Wash fresh produce before eating or cooking. Separate raw meat, seafood, and poultry from ready-to-eat foods. And, while the Centers for Disease Control says there’s no evidence that food or food packaging transmits the coronavirus, harmful germs and bacteria can survive in foods and on equipment unless you follow safe handling practices.

3. Cook and store food properly

Always cook food to its proper temperature using a food thermometer and keep any foods that need to be chilled in the refrigerator. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours. Many leftovers will keep up to four or five days in the refrigerator and up to six months in the freezer.

4. Inventory your pantry and refrigerator

Check and discard items past the “Use By” date. Remember the “Best if Used By” date indicates best flavor but is not a safety date. Most canned goods such as soups can last two to five years. For more specific information, check USDA’s FoodKeeper.

5. Check the food label to make the best choice for you

Some food choices more than others can help you feel your best and stay active. The food label provides helpful information for those who are monitoring certain nutrients, such as those individuals reducing salt, cutting back on sugar or minimizing intake of highly processed foods.

6. Minimize trips to the grocery store and make healthy choices

Many supermarkets are responding to the coronavirus pandemic by creating special hours for vulnerable guests and older individuals. Make a point to shop during these hours and stock your basket with healthy choices from all food groups, including whole grains, lean meats, fruits, and vegetables. If fresh is not an option, choose frozen and canned alternatives which are often more budget friendly.

Additional information

EatRight.org, Food Safety.gov, and the American Heart Association all have additional tips for food safety practices to help you stay safe and maintain a well-balanced diet.

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About Dorothea Vafiadis, MS

Dorothea Vafiadis is the Director of NCOA's Center for Healthy Aging. Her professional experience of more than 20 years in public health and at non-profit organizations includes developing nutrition and prevention strategies, translating science-based recommendations to drive behavior change and establishing nutrition policy guidelines with USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. She is a member of The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Food Forum.

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