Foodborne illness in the elderly

J Food Prot. 1998 Sep;61(9):1229-39. doi: 10.4315/0362-028x-61.9.1229.


The elderly (> or = 65 years of age) are more susceptible to morbidity and mortality from foodborne-induced gastroenteritis than younger individuals. Several factors contribute to the increased susceptibility to foodborne infections as well as other infections in elderly populations. These include an age-associated decrease in humoral and cellular immunity, age-related changes in the gastrointestinal tract (decreased production of gastric acid and decreased intestinal motility), malnutrition, lack of exercise, entry into nursing homes, and excessive use of antibiotics. Data from foodborne outbreaks associated with nursing homes indicate that the elderly are more likely to die from foodborne Campylobacter, Clostridium perfringens, Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus aureus infections than the general population. Infections by Salmonella species are the most common cause of illness and death in nursing homes with Salmonella enteritidis as the major cause of both morbidity and mortality. While it is impossible to turn back the clock, practicing a healthy life-style with regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, receiving regular health care, paying attention to personal hygiene, and monitoring food preparation and handling should lead to a reduced incidence of foodborne and other infections in the elderly.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging*
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Food Microbiology*
  • Foodborne Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Foodborne Diseases / immunology*
  • Humans