ComplianceMate Blog

Ensuring Food Safety in Assisted Living Facilities

Senior couple eating meal and talking in retirement home

The majority of the millions of people in assisted living facilities are adults 65 years of age or older.1 In addition to the medical care and living assistance these facilities provide, the major service they offer is healthy, dietary appropriate meals for the seniors. This age group is at a significantly increased risk of contracting foodborne illness, which for them can be fatal.

It is expected that the number of seniors using the assisted living facilities and other services will double by 2050.2 All of these factors combine to make minimizing foodborne illness outbreaks in these facilities an absolute necessity.

Contributing Factors

Besides seniors who are 65 years and older, people with disabilities, individuals recovering from injuries, and those in addiction recovery also reside in residential care facilities. All of these people  have a higher vulnerability to foodborne illness for a number of reasons.

First, foodborne illness is often caused by pathogens like salmonella and E.coli  in foods, which exist and multiply as the result of improper hygiene and inadequate food safety practices. The additional factors below affect the response of older seniors and other facility residents to these pathogens.

Age-Related Factors

Food moves more slowly through the gastrointestinal tracts of older seniors, which can result in higher bacterial growth. Older seniors also have a slower immune response, which leaves them less able to fight invaders.

In addition, the liver and kidneys, responsible for eliminating pathogens from the body, function less effectively in older seniors. The production of stomach acid also decreases with age, which can lead to higher bacterial growth in the gastrointestinal tract.

Medical Factors

Chronic conditions like cancer and diabetes affect seniors more than other age groups; they impact the immune system’s ability to fight pathogens. As well, the usage of antibiotics is much higher in senior populations; these products eliminate beneficial bacteria, causing a proliferation of harmful bacteria in the intestines.

Other individuals residing in senior care facilities may have compromised immune systems due to disabilities, medications, or past substance misuse.

Environmental Factors

Along with the age-related reasons for increased foodborne illness risk among seniors, the assisted living environment can also contribute to increased risk.

These environments place seniors in confined spaces, while allowing for the movement of staff and visitors passing through. This can increase the exposure to and transmission of pathogens to seniors.

In addition to the many age-related and medical factors already faced by seniors in assisted living facilities, an irony is that these facilities are only inspected once per year, on average.
As well, those who inspect facilities have not been trained in inspection to assisted living food regulations.3

Achieving Assisted Living Food Safety for Seniors

Smiling african female bakers looking at camera

Certified Dietary Managers (CDMs) are at the forefront of ensuring food safety for seniors and other assisted living facility residents, and their training should reflect this vital role. All staff working in the preparation, management, handling, and distribution of food to seniors in assisted living facilities must also receive training in food safety practices to prevent foodborne illness.

Additional techniques that assist the management and staff of assisted living facilities with achieving food safety are:

  1. Following the “Clean, separate, cook, chill” guidelines:

  • Clean hands, utensils, and surfaces often.
  • Keep raw foods away from cooked foods.
  • Cook senior care facility food to required internal temperatures.
  • Refrigerate perishable food within two hours.
  1. Develop and implement the 7 HACCP principles:

  • Conduct regular hazard analysis to identify food safety problems.
  • Determine and set critical control points (CCPS) for each hazard.
  • Establish limits for each CCP; an example would be safe food temperature ranges.
  • Create a procedure for monitoring each CCP, such as recording temperatures at regular specific intervals.
  • Create sets of corrective actions to take when CCP limits are breached.
  • Create procedures to verify that monitoring and corrective actions have taken place.
  • Establish an accurate means of documentation and record-keeping.
  1. Establish a food safety culture:

  • Provide resources and opportunities for furthering staff knowledge of proper food handling in assisted living facilities.
  • Observe the current knowledge of residents.
  • Provide opportunities for increasing food safety knowledge and awareness.
  • Develop programs that allow staff and residents to be rewarded for food safety best practices that are correctly implemented.

Food Safety Solutions for Assisted Living Facilities

To achieve food safety, senior care facility kitchens must implement strict temperature monitoring, but manual monitoring procedures can be rife with inaccuracies due to human error.

The ComplianceMate IoT monitoring solution ensures accurate temperature recording, appliance efficiency, significantly reduced food loss, and, ultimately, a healthier facility community. The solution consists of the following components:

  • Digital checklists, which eliminate manual temperature recordings
  • LoRaWAN temperature sensors, which record and transmit time-stamped temperature data continuously in real time
  • Automated alerts, which send a message to approved devices when temperatures fluctuate out-of-range
  • A central database, which stores all information for easy access from any web-enabled device; historical data can be viewed on custom dashboards—graphed and printed for easy analysis

ComplianceMate can be customized and scaled to any size of assisted living facility. Learn more by scheduling your free customized demo today.