So you’ve finally made it to your travel destination. After unpacking your luggage and changing out of your travel clothes you hear a rumble in your belly. Your mind flashes back to the foreign entrees you’ve been researching on the internet for the last month and now the only thing you can think of is diving mouth first into some real local exotic cuisine.
But wait! While your enthusiasm for the culinary arts is definitely understanding, it’s imperative you to take the necessary precautions to keep yourself safe from food poisoning. And if you think it can’t happen to you – then think again. Food poisoning is one of the most common ways travelers die while on vacation. It’s that serious. And if you’re still not convinced, recall the all-star cast movie Contagion that hit theatres in 2011. Let’s just say Gwyneth Paltrow should have been more careful about the food she ate during her business trip to Hong Kong. To get the inside scoop on how to prevent food poisoning while traveling abroad, keep reading.
Don't drink tap water
Have you ever heard the saying “don’t drink the water?” Well when traveling to developing countries, this saying is worth its weight in gold. Because the tap water can be very dangerous, carrying bacteria and viruses, it’s critical that you stick to bottled water. But when doing so check your bottled water carefully to ensure that the seal is intact and hasn’t been refilled from unclean sources. Even check your ice cubes as bacteria and viruses can rest there to. Many restaurants use filtered ice that’s delivered so make sure your ice cubes are uniform as opposed to homemade cubes with tap water.
Look for foods that are hot steaming
Germs that cause digestive illnesses don’t stand a chance in hot temperatures. However, they thrive in cool or lukewarm temperatures which encourage their growth…right on top of your seafood pasta, ewww. So to be safe, make sure when your food is delivered it’s piping hot, steaming and smoking with heat. This goes for your vegetables to. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seedy and leafy vegetables are among the top sources of food poisoning. Therefore, to err on the side of caution, go for sautéed or baked vegetables sides as opposed to raw options and opt for boiling hot foods and drinks such as stews, soups, and teas. Fried foods are also a safer bet.
Skip street food
Some say the best food comes homemade. While that’s definitely true in many cases, “homemade” style food from food carts aren’t held to the same hygiene standards as restaurants. There’s no way of knowing how long the food has been sitting out and if the ingredients used are fresh. However, if you can’t resist that spicy aroma lingering down the boulevard, order something you can see come off the grill. When choosing the best restaurant to dine, try local spots with heavy traffic. This means the food is steadily being replenished (increasing its chance of freshness) and that the restaurant has to work hard to keep its customers from getting sick as not to ruin its reputation with its local clientele.
Watch for Signs of Food Hygiene
While this should be a best practice even when attending your company pot luck, it’s still worth mentioning. Here are a few things to look for when choosing food vendors:
Tongs or utensils used to handle food (as opposed to bare hands)
Food covers or protectors such as saran wrap, pot lids, or spinning fans to keep flies off
Dishes being made fresh (as opposed to already sitting out)
Gloves and/or hair covers are in use
Sinks with soap and water for staff (more common in restaurants as opposed to food stalls)
Wash Your Hands
This one is so simple yet many people don’t think twice about washing their hands before eating. Any bacteria you’ve picked up during the day can easily make its way from your hands, to your meal then to the pit of your stomach. This is an absolute necessary habit that should be practiced before every meal...even if you just washed them an hour ago.
Opt for Fruits and Veggies with Peels
As yummy as strawberries, plums and nectarines are, it’ll probably be your best bet not to indulge while traveling abroad especially if you don’t have the opportunity to wash them before you eat. Reason being, food poisoning contaminates can come from soil, feces, unclean hands or being washed in contaminated water and rest on the skin of your fruit. If you chose fruits with peels, by removing the peels you’ll potentially be removing the contaminant holders, thus making the fruit safer for you to eat. Take a look at our list of just as good fruits that offer peels:
A very cool preventative measure to cut your risk of traveler’s diarrhea is Pepto-Bismol. Studies have shown that ingesting 2 ounces of the liquid or two chewable tablets four times a day before and during travel will help. Sure you may be sick and tired of the color pink by the time you’re done but hey, it’s better than the alternative.