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There are many groups of people who are at a higher risk when preparing food. These groups are pregnant women, young children, older adults and people with immune system weaker by disease or medical treatments. When preparing food for these groups, particular care needs to be taken and in some cases, foods need to be avoided. The effect of a food-borne illness will be much worse if the person is in a high-risk group. Now we will look at these high-risk groups.

Changes during pregnancy alter the mother's immune system, making pregnant women more susceptible to foodborne illness. Harmful bacteria can also cross the placenta and infect an unborn baby whose immune system is under-developed and not able to fight infection. Foodborne illness during pregnancy is serious and can lead to miscarriage, premature delivery, stillbirth, sickness or the death of a newborn baby. 

Young children are more at risk for foodborne illness because their immune systems are still developing.

As people age, their immune system and other organs become sluggish in recognising and ridding the body of harmful bacteria and other pathogens that cause infections, such as foodborne illness. Many older adults have also been diagnosed with one or more chronic conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer, or cardiovascular disease, and are taking at least one medication. The chronic disease process and/or the side effects of some medications may also weaken the immune system. In addition, stomach acid decreases as people get older, and stomach acid plays an important role in reducing the number of bacteria in the intestinal tract, and the risk of illness.

The immune system is the body's natural reaction or response to "foreign invasion." In healthy people, a properly functioning immune system readily fights off harmful bacteria and other pathogens that cause infection. However, the immune systems of transplant patients and people with certain illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, and diabetes, are often weakened from the disease process and the side effects of some treatments, making them susceptible to many types of infections, like those that can be brought on by harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness. In addition, diabetes may lead to a slowing of the rate at which food passes through the stomach and intestines, allowing harmful foodborne pathogens an opportunity to multiply.

Finally, people in high-risk groups are advised to avoid certain foods and if you are involved in food planning you may wish to avoid or take more care with foods like:

  • Raw or undercooked meat or poultry
  • Raw fish, partially cooked seafood, such as shrimp and crab, and refrigerated smoked seafood
  • Raw shellfish including oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops and their juices
  • Unpasteurized or raw milk and products made with raw milk, like yoghurt and cheese
  • Soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, such as Feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, and Mexican-style cheeses
  • Raw or undercooked eggs or foods containing raw or undercooked eggs, including certain homemade salad dressings
  • Unwashed fresh vegetables, including lettuce/salads
  • Hot dogs, luncheon meats, fermented and dry sausage, and other deli-style meats, poultry products, and smoked fish, unless they are reheated until steaming hot
  • Salads (without added preservatives) prepared on sites in a deli-type establishment, such as ham salad, chicken salad, or seafood salad
  • Unpasteurized, refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads