Cooking Safety Hazards for Seniors & How to Make the Kitchen Safe

The elderly are prone to malnutrition, which can be due to malabsorption resulting from chronic health conditions or poor meal preparation skills. 

This article will highlight some of the kitchen safety issues to be mindful of when a senior participates in meal preparation and offer some solutions to make them more safe.

Elderly Cooking Problems

Seniors often have issues with the following kitchen safety concerns:

Undercooking meat

When cooking meat, it is important to always check the middle of it to ensure that it has cooked through. This may be a challenge for seniors with vision problems, who sometimes estimate the cooking time as they cannot visually inspect meat to make sure it is done.

This can lead to seniors serving raw chicken, pork or other meats instead of having them fully cooked through. Of course, eating raw meat can lead to illness or food poisoning, so it is important to address this issue and provide education on proper food safety.

One way to help seniors with visual impairments check that meat has been evenly cooked through is to use a digital thermometer.


This thermometer can be poked into the center of the meat to check its internal temperature to be sure it is well cooked and harmful bacteria destroyed.

Forgetting to turn off the stove

Some seniors may have poor short term memory or can be easily distracted. These traits can contribute to many safety issues within the kitchen.

For example, forgetting to turn off the stove or oven can generate smoke or start a fire in the kitchen. Similarly, forgetting a pan or pot on an active heating element can be just as dangerous.

To reduce the risk of starting a fire in the kitchen, seniors should:

  • Minimize all other distractions ie. turn off the television, do not speak on the phone when cooking, etc.
  • Never leave the kitchen when cooking with an active heating element
  • Set reminder alarms and timers to check on the food and turn off the oven
  • Use a timed auto shut off feature on your oven if there is one
  • Boil water using an electric kettle with an automatic shut off rather than a pot on the stove top
  • Stop using the stove/oven if it cannot be operated safely

Inappropriate microwave use

Sometimes the range cannot be used safely by a senior and it poses a safety hazard. When this occurs, seniors usually shift over to using a microwave to warm their food up, or heat frozen meal kits.

Unfortunately, the microwave can also be an area where seniors make cooking errors, potentially damage the machine or have a fire event.

The following errors are commonly made by seniors when using a microwave:

  • Putting metal utensils in the microwave
  • Using non-microwavable bowls and plates
  • Running the microwave without anything inside
  • Microwaving for an excessive period of time
  • Heating food that should not be in the microwave
  • Incorrectly punching in the wrong microwave duration
  • Not following the instructions on the TV dinner package eg. not removing plastic covering or not opening the cover to allow moisture to vent

When using a new device in the kitchen, education and training is needed. Families should provide a watchful eye and supervision until the elderly demonstrate that they understand how the microwave works and that it is used safely.

For any elderly with vision impairments, microwaves with turn dials rather than digital screens buttons can be obtained. This can make it easier for an individual to adjust the heating duration.

Poor kitchen hygiene practices

Cross contamination by touching uncooked meat and then other surfaces or foods is quite common amongst the elderly, especially those that are new to the activity of cooking.

A food safety refresher should be provided to all seniors with a particular focus on newly widowed individuals that previously relied on their spouse to cook meals. 

This education can reinforce proper hygiene practices within the kitchen. For example, it can highlight that utensils that touch raw meat may harbor bacteria, and should not come into contact with clean surfaces or already prepared foods.

Little or inadequate planning

Preparing a meal and cooking is a complicated process involving many ingredients, spices, utensils, cutting boards and cooking surfaces. On top of this, when something is on the stovetop and actively cooking, it must be watched and tended to regularly to ensure that the food does not burn.

Someone must be able to handle multi tasking when cooking as numerous things are usually occurring simultaneously to prepare a good meal. This can be overwhelming to some seniors that may be slower in the kitchen, new to cooking or struggling without help from a loved one that recently passed.

To help someone feel less overburdened white attending to multiple things at the same time, it is best to find a recipe and follow it along. This breaks down the cooking process into smaller and simpler steps, and can help keep track of your current position in the process.

Recipes provide a list of all the materials and ingredients needed, so it allows an opportunity to gather all the items prior to starting. Furthermore, a recipe can help avoid missing certain steps that may be important and helps get a consistent meal at the end that is not only edible, but also delicious. 

Not making nutritious meals

Anyone who has ever cooked in the kitchen can tell you that preparing a nutritious meal is a labor and time intensive process. It involves not only buying the correct ingredients, but also following a precise cooking method to prepare a meal.

For some seniors, this may be too much for them, and they usually opt for more simpler options such as ordering take out or heating up a frozen pre-packaged TV dinner.

The problem with these ready-made meals from the store and local take out is that they usually have high salt, fat and sugar content to make them tasty. Unfortunately, this will not be a good meal choice for many seniors that may already be on medication to manage high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and a host of other health conditions.

Depending on individual dietary needs and food preferences, consuming fresh fruits and vegetables in moderation can be considered a healthier option.

When someone is not able to get all their vitamins and nutrients from their diet alone, supplementation may be needed. Consult your primary medical practitioner for support as they can check your blood for any deficiencies and suggest supplements to take.

Some physicians will suggest taking nutritional shakes such as Ensure to boost caloric intake and provide a low dose of many different kinds of vitamins and minerals.


When used in-between meals, these shakes can help a senior maintain their current weight and lead a more active lifestyle.

Senior Meal Help Options

For seniors that are unsafe in the kitchen on their own, or do not have the energy to prepare a meal themselves, other options need to be considered.

These are some ways for seniors to eat more healthy and be more safe in the kitchen:

  • Hire an in home caregiver for additional support with meals and other household chores
  • Have family bring pre-made frozen meals that can be easily heated up
  • Use a meal delivery service like meals on wheels to get senior friendly meal options dropped off at the door
  • Cook in the kitchen only when someone else is able to assist you
  • Get a kitchen safety assessment completed by an occupational therapist to determine if a senior is safe to cook on their own and recommendations to improve their safety