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I have printed out safe food handling rules for her and she refuses to read them. I have had people in the food industry talk to her but she refuses to listen. She says "I've never killed anybody yet." My father still works and has a long day and has no energy at the end of the day to deal with her issues. If I contact public health can they help me?

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After watching a friend's 7 year old child die from E.coli contaminated food, this is just not a battle I would back down on. I would eat nothing she cooks, nor allow my family (including her husband) to eat any of it either. It's not worth the potential suffering and consequences.

Angel
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LivingSouth, if I recall, your mother lives in her home and you live with her. Is that right? I don't recall how well she functions, but regardless, I'd steer clear of the food she cooks, unless you oversee how it is handled. (Check expiration date, sanitation of utensils, plates, counter tops, etc.) Seniors, and especially those with dementia, don't change easily and she isn't likely to do things differently, even if you ask. That's just what I have experienced.

My cousin would flat out refuse to wash her hands before preparing our meal, EVEN if she had handled kitty litter and/or used the bathroom. I had to refuse to eat the food. That didn't even bother her! If it gets bad enough, I would take measures to prevent her from preparing the food. That's tough, but eventually you may have to go that route. There are suggestions about how to do that on this site.
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LivingSouth, there is nothing in your profile describing your care situation, and I can't remember ... does your mother have dementia? Do you all live together? Does she do the cooking?

Can you ease her out of the cleanup job? "You've done this for so many years, Mom, that we hereby degree you are retiring from cleaning up the kitchen! Hooray!" Make a ceremony out of it. Give her a suitable novelty pin, and "hang up" her dishtowel.
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I am having the same problem - we are all sick and suspect that it has to do with my mother using the same dish cloth over and over. She does disinfect them from time to time, but washes the counter and then used it to wash dishes. She has the counter wipes but refuses to use them. Also having to re wash utensils that are dirty. She does not take suggestions or complaints mildly.
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have you ever saw many pics of a french home kitchen? wood stains, coal stains, pots that have never rested long enough to be washed, and fyi, breadbakers NEVER wash their breadpans. the burned on residue is like neanderthal teflon. no offense but mom can probably cook circles around you.
if she hasnt killed anybody yet thats a pretty impressive record.
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I have to ask how old is your Mom?

I clean out old food from my Mom's fridge when she's not looking... I bleach down her counters as frequently I can, without alarming her... She's 91 and at this point if the germs didn't kill her.... She's made it this long...
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You also Don't Want to stop her enjoying cooking - it'll happen soon enough, one more thing she has to leave behind, don't hasten the day. Gradually you'll find you're having to take over anyway, so ease into it. I think this is a very good example of a situation where you need to pick the right battles - and then don't lecture her, help her.

Besides, she might still have things to teach you, mightn't she? There's more to the gentle art of cookery than infection control alone.
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Somehow talking to a woman who HAS DEMENTIA about germs from the Pacific Ocean and microbes having sex on her counter doesn't sound like a practical approach to me, with or without good background music! :D

But, hey, anything is worth a try.
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Hello@Wheezer 59: Could you approach your Mother as your Mother. You know her as the woman who gave birth to you, brought you home from the hospital swaddled in her arms, and then proceeded to stop living her life so she could do all the right stuff and make all of the right decisions because she raised you to be that woman you turned out to be: healthy, smart, opinionated, a woman like herself who doesn't flinch and won't back down when the tough stuff and the right thing.need to be done. She's doing everything she has always done and "she ain't killed anybody yet." But our world has changed. And this is when you take her into your confidence. If you were doing her job in the kitchen, you'd be in the same place as she is. Life is so fast paced and the easiest thing is really a little more difficult. Then you start a discussion with your Mother: the new bacterias that are found, some mean nothing, others kill outright. Who even knows the difference? Did she ever stop to think that as we age our immune system starts to punk out on us. Something that's "going around" a disease that our bodies would have easily sloughed off back in the 1960s can knock us right out, straining our immune system and sending us straight to the ER. Our kids can be little ticking bombs, the unknown carriers of an obscure germ, the germ itself having migrated here from an unidentified island in the Pacific Ocean, deplaning at JFK in a few dirty little backpacks thall be tossed in the garbage. But not before the germ gets a ride home by Johnnie Lee Smith, the same Johnnie Lee who shares a table with our little Dakota in pre-K. Everyone has to be vigilant and that includes your Mother and yourself, you tell her, because with 330 million people in the U.S. now no one can afford to let beef insufficiently cooked on our dinner tables; the counters in our kitchens, well, even on a good day, they can harbor millions of disease carrying microbes that think nothing of enjoying sex on the formica, this before contaminating the fresh vegetables that have a low threshold of caring for itself. You should personalize the message because it's a matter of keeping the loved ones in the family safe and free from illness; you should treat her as your equal, but as an equal who has been too busy filing her role as matriarch, to learn about, absorb and institute important changes in routines that until have worked for her in protecting the family and its favorite places.

Sorry, I went overboard but I think you get the picture. She don't want to alienate her. You just want to help her safeguard the family and especially have her maintain her health.

Good luck to you. Put on some nice music as you begin this conversation. I am always impressed by how quickly my Mother will go from obvious unsettled anger to humming along and "dancing" in her chair whenever I switch on her favorite hits from the 70s.
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Ah, I see on your profile that you are caring for your mother, and she has dementia. Give up the effort to re-educate her. Ain't gonna happen.

Maybe she can be in charge of planning menus. If you do this a little in advance you will know what to take out of the freezer in plenty of time for it to thaw safely in the fridge. Can she help with the shopping? Then you can say, "You did the hard parts, Mom, planning the meals and shopping. I'll do my part by following your recipes to cook the food."

A person with poor hygiene habits and dementia should not be allowed to put the rest of the household and herself at risk for food-borne illness. This won't be easy, but I think it is worth a lot of effort. Good luck!
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Is it possible for you just to take over the cooking, and let your mother "retire" from that role? Are you living with them for your convenience, or are you also providing some care for your mother? Perhaps you could convince her that you want to do the cooking as your way of paying them back for them providing the food.

I know that CM is right, the risk of serious problems is not high, but I'm like you. I would be paranoid about eating there. This reminds me of a kind soul in a small town I know about, who was always first to bring a casserole or salad when a local family had health issues or a death. Everyone who knew of the conditions in her house (which was everyone) simply thanked her profusely and dumped the stuff out when she left.

I once worked in a large company that frequently had potluck events. After I'd been there a while a friend let me in on the Notebook secret. One person kept a notebook in her desk drawer. Any time anyone in the know saw someone use the bathroom without washing her hands the name went in the book. In this way careful folks could keep track of whose food to avoid. :D

You situation would bother me a lot. I'd rather do all the cooking myself than eat food thawed on the counter all day and handled by someone who didn't wash her hands. I hope you come up with a solution, and that if you do you'll share it with us. We learn from each other.
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I am very surprised she doesn't wash her hands. I thought that was Rules 1-100 of good old fashioned Domestic Science. Soap, water and a nail brush; and a clean roller towel (boil wash only, none of your Quick 'n' Cool nonsense) every day.

The other things… hym-hm. I know you're right. I do do them (although I have to say that a good potato salad is best served at room temperature - too chilled and you lose the flavour and spoil the texture - unless you're keeping it for hours on end, of course - but DON'T).

On the other hand - is anybody dead yet? Unless you never eat out or never buy pre-prepared food, I suggest you don't look too closely at what goes on when the Food Inspectors aren't watching or you'd have a fit. It's the very old, the very young and the sick who are really at risk from poor kitchen hygiene. You'd probably be pleasantly surprised at what your own body can kick ass about, and if your mother makes herself ill, you'll have the pleasure of saying "I told you so" as you hand her the Immodium.

E. coli and salmonella and listeria (I forgot to mention pregnant women above, too) are of course seriously bad news, and I agree about the rise of contamination with modern intensive farming practices; but, still, you have to be pretty unlucky and not cook the food through to suffer the worst consequences.

Suggestions for if you can't relax:

JosephJoseph does a set of chopping boards, colour coded for different food types, in one dinky little stand. I know you can get them at CostCo, so I assume they're available in the US. Not expensive, dishwasher safe.

Meat: who does the shopping? If it's you, or if it can be you, you can be fussy about your supplier, for one thing. Hunt down a GOOD butcher: one who eats his own stock, and cuts the way you like it, while you watch. Of course you can't see bacteria with the naked eye, but you can see someone who knows quality when he sees it and handles his goods with care. If he's cutting from whole carcasses, much less chance of serious contamination.

You can do most of the preparation straight off once you get it home - so, for example, braising steak you could pre-cube, or whatever you're planning to do with it, then freeze it ready for use in a tupperware container; poultry you can clean and truss, even baste under the skin if you go in for that sort of thing, before you chill or freeze it. The less preparation there is for your mother to do, the fewer opportunities for her to turn your hair white.

The counters… tricky. If you keep her company while she cooks you could develop a habit of springing up and giving them a quick squirt and wipe-down between operations, but she'll probably have you committed. Honestly? It's incredibly unlikely she'll do you any lasting damage by wafting a bread knife over a packet of chicken breasts. Slightly more likely she and your step-dad will be the ones to suffer - at which point you can take over.

It's awkward - you're in her kitchen. What would you do if you saw a friend doing that and then offering you a coffee with her manky hands on the jug? Refuse to sully your lips?

Actually I have a good friend - lovely woman except for her refusal to get a dishwasher. I think she thinks elbow grease is good for the soul or something. The trouble was that washing-up liquid is good for neither the soul nor the palate, and she WOULD not rinse things properly. I took to just rinsing my own and the children's (hers too) plates and glasses while I kept talking, before we ate, and she never did ask what the heck I thought I was doing - we're still friends.

Maybe there's your answer, just subtly cleaning alongside her as you and she cook merrily on and the conversation bubbles. I'd certainly give the lectures a rest if I were you. I expect she finds them a bit annoying.
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Most of these safe practices were not as critical in the past because back then farms were not so crowded and beef, particularly ground beef was not so contaminated with E.Coli. etc. So, it is hard for her to change practices, even more because she can't see the need. I would say help her cook when you can and rinse the cutting utensils off and do the slicing, and/or toast the bread and cook the vegetables. Put some ice around the potato salad. See if you can get the defrosting done via microwave on half or lower power or pull it out of the freezer and put it in the fridge the day before, then the hot water phase would be very brief and less likely to incubate bacteria too.

E coli is very bad in food, can be deadly; poultry and ground meat is worse risk for that than meat left whole such as steaks, or fish. Staph (from the potato salad) not as deadly, but it can make you good and sick for several hours at least.

Maybe she would listen to someone who could explain why things have changed and she was not necessarily wrong all those years to be more relaxed about the safe food rules that we are today.
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You are home,, take over the cooking!! Tell her it's good practice for you to do it!
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Throwing away bad food is not the problem. She does not follow safe practices when handling raw meat, will not wash hands, will defrost meat using hot water or setting it on the counter and then will not wash the counter with soap and water after raw meat has touched it. She made a potato salad and insisted on storing it outside because it was "cold enough". She will open raw meat packages with a knife and then use the knife to slice raw vegetables or bread. If I try to point out what is wrong with that, a screaming match ensues and the only thing to do is back down. I really am at my wit's end because I live with her and both she and my stepdad have compromised health and since I am unemployed I have to eat what she cooks. Please, someone, give me some ideas.
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We have made it a family rule not to eat anything mom cooks. Because she has limited vision, she can't tell when stuff has gone bad. I wait for her to go to the bathroom and then I open the fridge and follow my nose to the rotten stuff and ditch it in the trash. Usually in the fridge it is stuff on a lower shelf way in the back. In the cupboards, it's stuff on a high shelf way in the back. Public Health won't come out without a court order or written complaint or somebody ends up in the ER. You become the food police when she is not looking. Be alert for bugs in pasta and beans. ALWAYS check the dates on mixes, canned goods and condiments. NEVER use those creamers they steal from restaurants. Eggs? I put them in cold water, if they float, they are bad.
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