Food Safety Tips While Traveling
Posted in Food Safety,Our Blog on March 6, 2019
It’s March right now. We’ve just survived out of a polar vortex that brought brutal sub-zero temperatures to much of the east coast and midwest. Although temperatures have risen somewhat, many of us are still stuck inside, staring out of windows at piles of dirty, half-melted snow. Spring is still weeks or months away, depending on where you are, which means that many of us are stuck dreaming of warmer climes. One way to deal with the doldrums that set in at the end of winter is planning a vacation. There’s a whole world out there of strange, wonderful places: other countries, with their white sand beaches and enticing cabañas, are a tempting distraction. If you’re planning to travel in the second half of this year and would like to get a good deal on airfare, now’s the time to start lining up your tickets. While you are at it, you can read our food safety tips while traveling.
This is a food safety blog, so we aren’t just here to wax lyrical about the joy and wonder of traveling to a different place. We’re here to talk about food safety. Specifically: what can you do to avoid the common problem of food poisoning while abroad? Traveller’s diarrhea is a common problem for people visiting other countries. That doesn’t mean it has to be your problem. Please find below a list of tips that we’ve compiled to keep you healthy while you’re traveling.
- Wash your hands before you eat: This is an obvious point but one that bears repeating. We recommend at least 20 seconds with hot water, soap, and plenty of friction. Don’t forget to get the backs of your hands and the spaces between your fingers too. If that’s not possible where you are, you may want to consider investing in a bottle of antibacterial gel or wet wipes, which also work well and are much more portable than a sink and a hot water system.
- Don’t drink the water: Avoid water or ice that you think may not have been purified. That goes for water that’s served at restaurants that you may not be sure about. It also goes for drinks that may have been made with unpurified water – particularly if they reach you without having first been brought to a boil. Don’t brush your teeth with water from the sink, and be careful not to swallow any when you’re in the shower.
- Avoid cut fruits and vegetables: Generally, fruits that have a rind which can be peeled off are safe. That includes stuff like oranges. They’re only safe, however, if you’re the one peeling off the rind yourself. If the fruit has been cut with a knife before it was served to you, you’ll probably want to avoid it. That’s because a knife can transfer microbes from the rind to the inside of the fruit as it cuts through the rind. If you’re served pre-cut fruit, it’s probably best to politely decline it.
- Street food is risky: This one is difficult to write, because enjoying street food is one of this writer’s favorite things to do when they’re visiting a foreign country. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the riskiest things to do. Often, stalls serving food on the street have their ingredients sitting out most of the time. They’re rarely properly refrigerated, and it can be difficult to verify where exactly the ingredients came from. That’s a surefire recipe for trouble. Although street food is delicious, we cannot in good conscience recommend that you eat it if you’re trying to avoid food poisoning.
- Hot is better: We’re not talking about the amount of spice here. Heat kills pathogens, so foods that are served steaming hot are going to be safer to eat than foods which aren’t. Stick to dishes that come out at a high temperature. Avoid foods that are served cold and anything that’s ready-to-eat. Remember, foods that have been sitting at room temperature are more likely to harbor pathogens; if there’s any point at which they’ve been sitting above 40 degrees fahrenheit, the window for pathogens to spread has already opened.
- Eat where it’s busy: Busy restaurants generally have better food. The locals know what’s good, so a long line or a lot of activity generally means that the place is a winner. There’s another advantage to a busy restaurant, however: there’s less of a chance that the food has been sitting out for a long time before it’s reached you. Places that are busy are more likely to cook the food immediately before it’s served to you on a plate. That’s a good thing, as food poisoning goes with food that’s been sitting out like peanut butter goes with jelly.
- Use your common sense: You’ve already got some (we hope). Why not use it? Use your eyes and brain to verify that a restaurant is practicing good food safety. Look for signs of good hygiene. Is the place dirty? Are the workers using best practices? Are they touching the food with their hands? Are the utensils & cookware clean? Making a basic assessment of whether or not somewhere looks safe for you to eat can save you a lot of trouble and time in the bathroom in the long run.
- If you do end up getting food poisoning, be prepared in advance with countermeasures. We recommend rehydration drinks like Pedalyte or salts like Suero so that you don’t experience dehydration from diarrhea. If you’re going to be traveling and need to spend some time in a vehicle, considering taking a drug like Immodium so that you can be sure that you won’t have to use the bathroom for the duration of the trip. If you diarrhea has blood in it, or if you’ve been experiencing serious intestinal distress for 72 hours, you should go and see a doctor. If that isn’t possible, you may want to consider a powerful broad-spectrum antibiotic like ciproflaxin. Be warned, however – cipro has some potential side effects that are worth considering before you take it, including increased chance of tendon rupture.
As always, remember to seek medical attention. Early medical attention could help reduce the severity of an illness and the risk of long-term complications.
By: Sean McNulty, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)