High-risk Customer Groups & the Dangers of Food Poisoning

Food poisoning can happen to anyone at any time, but for certain high-risk groups, the consequences of poor food safety can be fatal.
January 22, 2018

Food poisoning and infection from Salmonella, E.coli and other common harmful pathogens can happen to anyone at any time. However, for certain high-risk groups, the consequences of poor food safety can be fatal.

High-risk groups

People who are at higher risk for developing significant food-borne illnesses are generally those who have compromised immune systems.

These include: 

  • children under five years of age
  • sick people
  • pregnant women and unborn children
  • the elderly

The elderly are a particularly high-risk group. As we age, our digestive systems tend to become more sensitive. Older people generally produce less stomach acid than when they were younger, and the stomach lining becomes more delicate and sensitive to irritation. This allows bacteria to sneak past the stomach and into the digestive tract where it can cause food poisoning.

Food poisoning symptoms

Most people will begin to experience the symptoms of food poisoning quite quickly after eating the contaminated food. However, it can sometimes take days, weeks or even months for problems to arise, depending on the bacteria involved.

Food poisoning usually causes symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea or bloody stools, severe exhaustion or headaches, and fever. In high-risk groups, it can lead to organ failure, coma or death. Pregnant women may experience miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth.

If you or someone you know is in a high-risk group and believes that they’re experiencing food poisoning, contact a doctor and seek treatment as soon as possible.

Preventing food poisoning

It's important that Food Handlers, who have a responsibility to serve safe food to the public, understand how food poisoning can occur and how to handle food safely to prevent the worst from happening. Food Handlers must ensure that all high-risk foods (e.g. meat, cheese, eggs) are kept refrigerated and out of the Temperature Danger Zone. If a high-risk food has been in the Temperature Danger Zone for two hours or more, they should know to throw it out so that a potentially vulnerable customer doesn't consume large numbers of dangerous bacteria or viruses. 

Food Handlers must also receive food safety training that teaches them how to properly thaw frozen high-risk foods (hint: the safest way to thaw frozen meats is in the refrigerator overnight) and how to properly store different foods in the refrigerator to prevent cross-contamination and ensure adequate temperature control. 

Any uncooked meat should always be prepared on a non-porous cutting board, and hands should be washed thoroughly before and after handling different types of food. Finally, if you serve food to vulnerable groups, such as in an aged care facility, avoid serving foods that are commonly associated with food poisoning, such as raw fish, shellfish, soft cheese and undercooked meat.