Health Care Providers, Other Caregivers Not Fully Equipped to Teach Older Adults about Food Safety

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Older adults are more likely than younger adults to experience severe complications and death as a result of foodborne infections, yet many healthcare providers and older-adult caregivers don’t have the knowledge and training to educate adults over age 60 about recommended food safety practices, according to a new study by researchers at RTI International and Tennessee State University.

The study, which was published in Educational Gerontology, was aimed at understanding healthcare providers’ and other caregivers’ attitudes and behaviors regarding foodborne illness prevention for older adults. Researchers conducted telephone-based focus groups with physicians, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, home health care providers and relative caregivers between March and May 2010.

Older adults are at higher risk of foodborne illness because of sensory decline such as poor eyesight, dementia, and decreased sense of smell. Decreased stomach acid production also increases their susceptibility to foodborne illness. Dietary recommendations for older adults suggest that to avoid foodborne illnesses, they should avoid eating raw or undercooked seafood, soft cheeses, foods containing raw eggs, cold smoked fish, cold deli salads, hot dogs and deli meats that have not been reheated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. They should also use cheese and yogurt made from pasteurized milk and drink only pasteurized milk and juices.

"This study highlights a need to integrate food safety education into preventive healthcare for older adults,” said Kelly Wohlgenant, a policy analyst at RTI and lead author of the study. “These results will be useful in developing food safety education materials for individuals that care for older adults.”

The researchers found that focus group participants were knowledgeable about foodborne pathogens and identified poor food safety practices as a risk factor for foodborne illness; however, their level of understanding of recommended practices for handling, storing and cooking foods varied widely.

While some home health care providers received training on proper hygiene and food storage practices, the training varied across employers and states. The physician, nurse, nurse practitioner and physician assistant participants said they did not receive training on practices to prevent foodborne illnesses when handling, storing and cooking food in domestic kitchens. 

To help promote education about foodborne illnesses, the authors suggest providing food safety information at doctor’s offices via brochures, pamphlets, wall charts and video presentations in waiting and exam rooms as well as disseminating downloadable information online.


  • Study found healthcare providers and caregivers aren't prepared to educate older adults about food safety practices
  • Researchers used focus groups to understand providers’ and caregivers’ attitudes about foodborne illness prevention for older adults
  • Participants knew about foodborne pathogens and food safety risk factors, but lacked understanding of recommended food safety practices