High risk for food poisoning

Anyone can get food poisoning but there are groups of people who are at increased risk of doing so. These include:

  • The elderly
  • Babies and children under 5
  • People with a serious illness or disease e.g. diabetes
  • People with a compromised immune system, e.g. HIV
  • People suffering from a blood disorder such as sickle cell anaemia.
  • People whose job involves handling raw food
  • People with special needs or learning difficulties
  • Health care staff whose jobs involve serving food and drink to vulnerable patients.
  • Pregnant women
  • People who are taking medication such as steroids, antibiotics or antihistamines.
  • People who travel frequently (e.g. business travel)

If you or anyone you know falls into any of these categories then ask for advice on reducing the risk of food poisoning. This site can help as can your local environmental health department.

It is important for anyone within a ‘high risk’group to take precautions to prevent food poisoning as they are at greater risk of complications.

For example, pregnant women run the risk of passing on the effects of food poisoning to their unborn baby.

Some of these high risk groups are discussed separately within this guide, for example, teenagers and the elderly. However we have provided a short overview of the dangers of food poisoning in any of these groups.

If you want to know more about the risks of food poisoning in a particular group, e.g. babies then visit the appropriate section.

The elderly

Older people are at risk of food poisoning, mainly due to the fact that their immune systems are less capable at dealing with illness and disease. Plus older people often suffer from a chronic disease (or diseases) which then increase the risk of food poisoning.

There is also the fact that our stomachs produce less acid as we age which allows more bacteria to enter our digestive systems. These bacteria can then cause an illness such as food poisoning or an infection.

Find out more in our elderly and food poisoning section.

Babies and children under 5

Babies and young children are at a higher risk of food poisoning which is usually a result of an underdeveloped immune system and a tendency to put anything in their mouths irrespective of whether it is edible or not.

Young children like to explore their surroundings and will handle any object that is within their grasp. The risk with this is that the object in question may be a carrier for germs or bacteria which then enter the child’s digestive system. Once there they thrive and infect this area which leads to illnesses such as food poisoning.

Find out more in our babies and food poisoning section. Alternately, visit our children and food poisoning section.

People with a serious illness

If you have a serious condition such as diabetes or kidney failure then you are at an increased risk of food poisoning. The reason for this is a weakened immune system which has occurred as a result of your condition and leaves you vulnerable to viruses and bacteria.

These viruses and bacteria can cause a whole range of diseases and infections which include food poisoning.

What is especially problematic for diabetics is the effect of food poisoning on their blood sugar levels and the ability to regulate this. If you have diabetes –either type 1 or type 2 then seek medical advice if you get food poisoning in order to reduce any complications with maintaining your blood sugar levels.

People with a compromised immune system

When we say ‘compromised’ we mean people who have a weakened immune system as a result of a chronic condition, autoimmune disease or have undergone cancer treatment such as chemotherapy.

This means that their immune systems are less able to fight off bacteria and viruses which cause diseases and infections. One example of these is the salmonella bacteria which develop in contaminated food such as chicken. This type of food poisoning is serious even life threatening for this group of people.

People whose job involves handling raw food

If you work in an environment in which you are required to handle raw food then be aware that this places you at a greater risk of developing food poisoning. This is particularly prevalent in places where raw food is prepared in close proximity to cooked food (both of which need to be kept separate).

A good example of this is poultry. If you handle raw chicken on a regular basis then ensure that you wash your hands and any surfaces the poultry has been on. Doing so will prevent the risk of chicken food poisoning which is one of the most common types of food poisoning.

People with special needs or learning difficulties

Food poisoning is a risk with this group of people as they may be less aware of the dangers of this when preparing or cooking food. They may not realise the importance of using food before it reaches its ‘sell by’ date or storing it at the right temperature. It may be the case that this group of people, who are learning skills such as, shopping or cooking in order to become independent, require advice and guidance on food safety. This means educating them to the risks of food poisoning and supervising them to start with to ensure that they understand these risks.

Plus it is important to stress the importance of personal hygiene, for example, remembering to wash one’s hands after visiting the bathroom. This also includes washing the hands before and after they have handled food.

Health care staff whose jobs involve serving food and drink to vulnerable patients

Any person who works in the health service or caring professions and is required to serve food and drink to vulnerable patients is at risk of food poisoning.

If this applies to you then you will probably be aware of the need for strict hygiene in order to prevent the risk of food poisoning spreading to sick or frail patients.

One example of this is nursing homes. If one resident becomes ill with food poisoning then it is very easy for this to spread to the other residents. This is particularly dangerous in this situation as these residents will have weakened immune systems which leaves them open to the risk of complications.

Another factor is if a member of staff has contracted food poisoning and carries on working before the symptoms appear. He or she has acted as a carrier albeit unknowingly and has passed this illness on via person to person contact.

Pregnant women

If you are pregnant then what you eat during this time is of vital importance. This means eating foods which are healthy and nutritious and are likely to be beneficial to you and your unborn baby.

But as well as what you eat, it is also important to be aware of how you prepare, cook and store food in order to reduce the risk of food poisoning.

If you get food poisoning as a result of contaminated food then the bacteria from this will affect your baby which can result in birth defects.

Find out more in our pregnancy and food poisoning section.

People who are taking medication such as steroids or antihistamines

People who are taking prescribed medication such as antihistamines, steroids or antibiotics are more susceptible to food poisoning and other gastrointestinal illnesses. This may due to the fact that these drugs can affect the digestive system which increases this risk.

For example, an upset stomach is one of the side effects from taking antihistamines.

Immunosuppressant drugs and steroid medication impact upon the body’s immune system which reduces its ability to fight off bacteria and viruses. This leaves the body open to infections such as gastroenteritis and food poisoning.

People who travel frequently

Anyone who travels on a regular basis, either on vacation or business is at risk of contracting food poisoning or any form of gastro-intestinal illness.

This is due to varying standards of food hygiene and safety in many countries coupled with the risk of inadequate sanitation.

If you are a frequent traveller then take a few precautions such as drinking bottled water, avoid raw foods, e.g. salads, choose food which has been freshly prepared and cooked and take anti-diarrhoea medication with you just in case.

To reiterate: if you or anyone you know fits into any of these high risk groups then you/they will need to take extra care in regard to food safety.

They are at greater risk of food poisoning than others but this does not automatically mean that they will develop this. It just means that they need to be aware of this risk and take steps to prevent them from getting this illness.

Food Poisoning Guide

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