Food Safety in Aged Care
The food supply in Australia is among the safest in the world. However, when certain disease causing bacteria or pathogens contaminate food, they can cause foodborne illness, often called "food poisoning." The Commonwealth government estimates that there are about 5.4 million cases of foodborne illness annually — the equivalent of sickening 1 in 5 Australians each year. Although everyone is susceptible, the elderly are at greater risk for developing foodborne illness. Since 1995 there have more than 70 foodborne illness outbreaks in Australian aged-care facilities, childcare centres and hospitals with 800 illnesses and 80 fatalities. In the USA, rates of foodborne illness can be 10 to 100 times greater for elderly people within nursing homes when compared to the general population.
As people age, their immune system becomes sluggish in recognising and ridding the body of harmful bacteria and other pathogens that cause infections, such as foodborne illness. Many older adults have also been diagnosed with one or more chronic conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer, or cardiovascular disease, and are taking at least one medication. The chronic disease process and/or the side effects of some medications may also weaken the immune system.
Food Standard 3.3.1 requires Australian food businesses that prepare food for service to vulnerable people to implement a food safety program. In this example a vulnerable person is defined as a person who receives care from aged care facilities including nursing homes, respite care, same day aged care and low care aged care facilities.
Regis Aged Care - one of the largest providers of aged care services in Australia.
In 2014 Regis Aged Care engaged Food Safety Plus to undertake food safety audits of its 5 facilities in Western Australia and has consistently achieved positive audit outcomes. To facilitate effective food safety practices Regis has developed and implemented a food safety program which systematically identifies food safety hazards including physical, chemical (incl. allergens) and microbial hazards. The food safety plan also details procedures such as pre-requisite programs (health, hygiene, cleaning, pest control etc) and specific controls such as:
• Personal hygiene of food handlers
• Time and temperature control.
• Substitution of high risk foods with lower risk alternatives
• Effective cleaning and sanitation of fruits and vegetables to be consumed raw
• Minimise storage times of foods to be consumed without further heat treatment
• Proper cooking of foods
• Effective cleaning and sanitation of equipment, in particular those used for foods that will not receive a further heat treatment eg purees.
Importantly the food safety program is reviewed annually and its effectiveness measured by regular internal audits.