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College of Human Ecology

Researchers at K-State examining food safety education for older adults

Monday, December 3, 2007

MANHATTAN -- Researchers in Kansas State University's College of Human Ecology have been awarded a $599,000 grant to develop educational programs in food safety targeting vulnerable older adults.

The U. S. Department of Agriculture will fund the three-year grant through the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service.

Principal investigators are Valentina Remig, assistant professor of human nutrition; Kevin Roberts, assistant professor of hotel, restaurant, institution management and dietetics; Toni Bryant, extension associate in food and nutrition; and Gerry Snyder, multimedia specialist in extension.

Adults ages 65 and older are at increased risk for food-borne illness, Roberts said. Plus, they are more likely to die from complications. One of every 500 deaths and one of every 100 hospitalizations are attributed to food-borne illness in the U.S.

Remig listed several reasons susceptibility increases with age: weakening immune systems, the growing number of older adults living longer independently and preparing their own food, unsafe food handling, and declining health.

The main causes of food-borne illnesses remain constant, Roberts said. They are cross contamination, time/temperature abuse and poor personal hygiene.

"Research has told us that older adults are reluctant to throw questionable food away, are unclear about dates on food labels and are not familiar with cooking temperatures that could ensure food safety," he said.

"Many seniors assume that color is a good indication that an item, such as ground beef, is cooked properly," he said. "Yet research has shown that color is not an adequate indicator of the internal temperature of the food item."

Education will to be a challenge, Remig said, as older adults tend to cling to their beliefs about food safety. They have a lifetime of experience in handling and managing food and often resist suggestions that they need to change their ways.

"We know more about disease and safer food handling than we did 50 years ago," she said.

The research team will develop and test a multimedia food safety training program that will consider older adults' references for learning, based on their familiarity with technology and their needs. Statewide K-State Research and Extension personnel will work with development, testing and disseminating the program in English and in Spanish, Remig said.

"We hope the model we develop will serve the rest of the nation," she said.

Sources: Valentina Remig, 785-532-0172, remig@k-state.edu;
and Kevin Roberts, 785-532-2399, kevrob@k-state.edu
News release prepared by: Jane Marshall, 785-532-1519, jpm2@k-state.edu

This article was posted on Monday, December 3, 2007, and is filed under College News, Food, Nutrition, Dietetics and Health.