Hand holding a marker. Text spells DIABETES

When we talk about people who are at higher risk of foodborne illness, the groups that often come to mind are small children, elderly people, people who are seriously ill and pregnant women. Another group is people who are immunocompromised- and people with diabetes are squarely in this group.

People with diabetes, and their family members, are often unaware that diabetes puts you at increased risk of foodborne infection.

Diabetes is often assumed to affect only blood glucose levels, but the damage diabetes can wreak can affect nerves, eyes, circulation and kidneys. Blood vessels may be damaged, and this can lead to heart attacks or strokes.

The September/October 2020 issue of Food Protection Trends takes a deep dive into why people with diabetes are at higher risk of foodborne illness.  Ellen W. Evans and Craig R. Gwynne’s paper, “Identifying Vulnerable Populations at Risk of Foodborne Infection: People with Diabetes Mellitus” provides insights into this serious problem and what can be done to decrease risk:

Why are People with Diabetes at Higher Risk of Food Borne Illness?

The reasons for their susceptibility to food borne illness may be because of the effect of high blood sugar levels on the nervous system. This nerve damage can result in gastroparesis, a condition in which normal stomach digestion activity slows or stops. This results in the infected food staying in the stomach and intestines for longer, giving harmful bacteria extra time to multiply.

Production of gastric acid may also be reduced. The acid works to break down food in the stomach and functions as a barrier to harmful bacteria.

In addition to their already immune-compromised state, foodborne illness symptoms, such as excessive vomiting, can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) which, if not treated quickly,  could lead to blurred vision, slurred speech, confusion, and loss of consciousness.

Poor blood sugar control appears to be an important risk factor in the increased risk of infection and of serious infection for people with diabetes.

What to Do?

Luckily, there is lots a person with diabetes and their family members can do to reduce their risk of food borne illness.

Managing diabetes and maintaining blood glucose concentrations in the goal range may reduce the risk of foodborne infection.

Taking these easy steps to handle food safely at home can also reduce the risk of food poisoning to people with diabetes and everyone else in the household.


4 Steps to Food Safety

Following the four simple steps from www.FoodSafety.gov- clean, separate, cook and chill, can help keep your family safe from food poisoning at home.

Clean: Wash Hands, Utensils, and Surfaces Often

Illness-causing germs can survive in many places around your kitchen, including your food, hands, utensils, and cutting boards.

Wash your hands often, especially:

  • Before and after preparing food
  • After handling raw meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices, or uncooked eggs
  • Before eating
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After touching garbage

Wash surfaces and utensils after each use:

  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water, especially after they have held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs.
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables under running water.
  • Scrub firm produce like melons or cucumbers with a clean produce brush.
  • Don’t wash meat, poultry, eggs, or bagged produce marked “pre-washed”.

Separate: Don’t Cross Contaminate

Use separate cutting boards and plates for produce, meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs.

  • Use one cutting board for fresh produce or other foods that won’t be cooked before they’re eaten, and another for raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Replace them when they are worn.
  • Use separate plates and utensils for cooked and raw foods.In your shopping cart, separate raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from other foods and place packages of raw meat, poultry, and seafood in plastic bags if available.
  • At home, place raw meat, poultry, and seafood in containers or sealed plastic bags. Freeze them if you’re not planning to use them within a few days.

Cook to the Right Temperature

Food is safely cooked when the internal temperature is high enough to kill germs that can make you sick.

  • Use a food thermometer to be sure your food is safe. When you think your food is done, place the food thermometer in the thickest part of the food, making sure not to touch bone, fat, or gristle. Refer to this Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart to be sure your foods have reached a safe temperature.
  • Microwave food thoroughly (165˚F or above). Read package directions for cooking and follow them exactly to make sure food is thoroughly cooked. If the food label says, “Let stand for x minutes after cooking,” follow the directions — letting microwaved food sit for a few minutes enables colder areas to absorb heat from hotter areas.

Chill: Refrigerate and Freeze Food Properly

Refrigerate perishable foods within 2 hours.

  • Bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest between 40°F and 140°F.
  • Use an appliance thermometer to be sure your refrigerator is set to 40°F or below and your freezer to 0°F or below.
  • Never thaw or marinate foods on the counter. The safest way to thaw or marinate meat, poultry and seafood is in the refrigerator.
  • Know when to throw out food by checking our Safe Storage Times chart. Be sure you throw food out before harmful bacteria grow.


Food Safety Field Specialist
Extension Field Specialist, Food Safety
Phone: 603-787-6944
Office: Cooperative Extension, Taylor Hall, Durham, NH 03824