• Presentation

Older Adults Are Not Prepared to Ensure Food Safety During Extended Power Outages and Other Emergencies


Cates, S., Kosa, K., Karns, S., Godwin, S. L., Coppings, R. J., & Speller-Henderson, L. (2011, October). Older Adults Are Not Prepared to Ensure Food Safety During Extended Power Outages and Other Emergencies. Presented at APHA 2011, Washington, DC.


Adults age 60 and older are more likely than the general population to experience chronic illness, hospitalization, and death because of foodborne infections. Natural disasters, such as hurricanes and blizzards, can cause extended power outages, which can endanger the safety of food. Thus, older adults need to be prepared by having food available and knowing how to keep food safe. We conducted a nationally representative survey to learn how older adults prepare for and respond to extended power outages (n = 290). In the past 5 years, 25% of respondents experienced an extended power outage, and 77% reported that they ate food from their refrigerator during or after the power outage. More than half of respondents relied on their senses, a potentially unsafe practice, to determine whether food was safe to eat. Only 17% of respondents reported being fully prepared to respond to an extended power outage, and 56% of respondents have a 3-day supply of non-perishable food and water stored for each household member. Awareness of specific food safety recommendations varied. Nearly all respondents knew to keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed to maintain cold temperatures, while only 34% knew to discard refrigerated perishable foods after 4 hours without power. The survey findings suggest that older adults would benefit from education on food safety during power outages and other emergencies. Educators and public health officials can use the survey findings to address gaps in knowledge and practices and thus help to reduce foodborne illness.