Infections, Nutrition and Food Safety
Foodborne illness is transmitted to people by food or beverages, sometimes called food poisoning. The very young and the very old are at increased risk for foodborne illness for different reasons:
The immune system is not as efficient.
Stomach acid decreases with aging.
Underlying conditions, such as diabetes, increase the risk for illness.
To reduce the risk of illness from bacteria in food, individuals who are at greatest risk are advised to avoid eating certain foods.
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To reduce the risk of illness from bacteria in food, individuals who are at greatest risk are advised not to eat:
Raw fin fish and shellfish, including oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops.
Raw or unpasteurized milk or cheese, and soft cheese (Brie, Camembert).
Raw or lightly cooked egg or egg products including salad dressings, cookie or cake batter, sauces, and beverages such as eggnog.
Raw meat or poultry.
Unpasteurized or untreated fruit or vegetable juice.
Recognizing Foodborne Illness
The bacteria in unsafe food are hard to detect. Often the individual cannot see, smell or taste the bacteria and may take up to six weeks to cause illness.
Because the bacteria generated by foodborne illnesses can be so difficult to detect it is of utmost importance that the care worker is familiar with their symptoms. This could have the potential to save a client’s life.
Symptoms of foodborne illness may be confused with other types of illness, but are usually nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or a fever, headache and body aches.
Figure 1. A microscopic image of e coli – a bacteria found in contaminated dairy products
Food Preparation – Washing Your Hands
Washing your hands by using the correct procedure before preparing food for your client is very important – failure to do so could put their health at risk.
As a care worker you may see several different clients and/ or do different tasks such as cleaning and bathing. This dramatically increases the chances of you carrying bacteria on your hands.
When preparing food for a client, the DCW needs to clean fingernails and contain hair. Wear disposable gloves to reduce contamination and cover broken skin areas.
Remember to wash your hands before applying and after removing gloves.
Figure 2. It is important to use soap when washing your hands
Washing and Preparing Food - Vegetable
sPrepackaged salads and other vegetables that are not cooked before eating are considered to be a current leading source of foodborne illness.
You should never serve salad greens or raw vegetables unless you have washed them. Please follow the guidelines outlined below to protect the health of your clients:
Fresh vegetables should be eaten soon after being purchased.
Some vegetables need scrubbing to remove the dirt. It is better not to peel such vegetables, because nutritional value will be lost.
Avoid boiling vegetables because nutrients will end up in the water. Instead you can microwave, steam, or stir-fry them.
If possible, have two cutting boards; one for raw meat, poultry and fish, and the other for vegetable and cooked foods.
Caution: It is NOT a safe practice to thaw meat, poultry or fish on the kitchen counter. This is because bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature.
There are three safe methods to thaw frozen meat, these are outlined below:
Leave the meat in the refrigerator.
Place the frozen meat in a watertight plastic bag under cold water and change the water often.
Microwave the meat.
Figure 3. Bacteria can multiply rapidly on meat left at room temperature.
Caution: At room temperature, bacteria in food can double every 20 minutes.
Refrigerated leftovers need to be thrown out after a period of three days.
Meat - Store fresh or thawed raw meat, poultry and fish in the refrigerator. Store cooked meat or poultry products in the freezer if you want to keep them longer than a few days. Canned foods - If a commercially canned food shows any sign of spoilage-bulging can, leakage, spurting liquid, off odor or mold-throw it out. DO NOT TASTE IT.
Discard (throw away) any perishable foods left at room temperature longer than 2 hours.
If you are ever in doubt about whether food is safe to cook for a client – don’t take the risk throw it away!
Special Dietary Needs and Diets
A care worker will regularly encounter clients who have special dietary requirements that require them to limit or avoid certain foods.
The most important thing for a care worker to do in a situation like this is to pay close attention to the labels of any food which you are preparing for a client.
Should you serve food to a client which they are allergic, you would make your agency liable for any damages that the food may cause the client. They could also potentially face a lawsuit.
Always pay close attention to the food labels when you are cooking food for a client who has special dietary requirements!
The diets that care workers encounter with their clients have a tendency to overlap.
Some of the most common diets are outlined below:
In order to reduce sodium in a diet:
• Choose low or reduced-sodium, or no-salt-added versions of foods.
• Choose fresh, frozen, or vegetables.
• Use fresh poultry, fish, and lean meat, rather than canned or types.
• Use spices instead of salt.
There have been many changes recently in diabetic diets. Current diabetic management includes counting carbohydrates. Concentrated sugars can be eaten as long as the portion size and frequency are limited.
Specific dietary guidelines should be obtained from the client’s physician.
The renal diet is for people with reduced kidney function. Generally the person needs to limit foods high in protein, salt and potassium.
These foods include meats, whole grains, milk and cheese. Salt substitutes are used with caution since they are generally high in potassium. Clients on dialysis will also have to limit their fluid intake.
The gluten-free diet is for people who have celiac disease, an intestinal disorder, or a wheat allergy. The person is not able to have any food with wheat, barley or rye in it.
They may be able to have rice, corn or potatoes. Note: Some foods use wheat as a thickener. Read the list of ingredients on the labels to avoid the ingredients that are not allowed.
Lactose Intolerant Diet
The lactose intolerant diet is for people who have difficulty digesting lactose, a sugar found in milk and milk products. As people age, lactose intolerance may increase.
Symptoms can include stomach pain, gas, nausea, and diarrhea. People can avoid milk and milk products, but they should increase their dietary intake of foods high in calcium such as fish with soft bones (salmon and sardines) and dark green vegetables such as spinach.
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