While everyone is at risk of developing foodborne illness, some groups are more likely to get sick than others. These groups include children, pregnant and post-partum women, people over 65, and those with compromised immune systems (FDA, 2018c).
Children – particularly those under the age of five – still have developing immune systems, which makes it harder for them to fight infection. As a result, children are at higher risk of contracting a foodborne illness and developing serious complications. Caretakers need to take precautions during food preparation, handling, and storage to avoid increased probability of foodborne disease in this vulnerable population (FDA, 2018a; FIGHT BAC Partnership for Food Safety Eduction, n.d.; USDA, 2013).
Pregnant women and their unborn children have increased susceptibility to foodborne illness due to the many changes taking place in their bodies. These individuals are particularly susceptible to listeriosis and toxoplasmosis, which can result in serious complications including miscarriage and stillbirth. To protect themselves and their unborn babies, expectant mothers should avoid consuming foods associated with Listeria monocytogenes and Toxoplasma gondii, including deli meats, soft cheeses, and undercooked meats; as well as handling soiled cat litter (FDA, 2018b).
Individuals Aged 65 and Older
As we age, our immune systems start to weaken, making it harder to fight infection. People over 65 therefore have increased susceptibility to both contracting and overcoming foodborne illness. This population has a greater likelihood of developing severe, prolonged foodborne illness that could lead to hospitalization or death (FDA, 2019a).
Some conditions – like living with organ transplants, cancer, diabetes and HIV/AIDS – and their treatments can weaken the body’s immune system and decrease the ability to respond to foodborne disease. Those with compromised immune systems are at greater risk of severe complications from foodborne illness, including hospitalization or death (FDA, 2019b, 2019c, 2019d).
FDA. (2018a). Food Safety for Infants & Toddlers
FDA. (2018b). Food Safety for Pregnant Women
FDA. (2019a). Food Safety for Older Adults
FDA. (2019b). Food Safety for People with Cancer
FDA. (2019c). Food Safety for People with Diabetes
FDA. (2019d). Food Safety for People with HIV/AIDS
FIGHT BAC Partnership for Food Safety Eduction. (n.d.). Keeping Babies & Toddlers Safe from Foodborne Illness
The PEW Charitable Trusts. (2014). Young Children and Foodborne Illness
USDA. (2013). Food Safety After School