Summer seems like the best time of year to travel and explore the world. The kids are out of school. The weather is warm. And everyone just seems like they are in that vacation mood.
But, summer months come with their own disadvantage. The warm weather partnered with new foods and locales gives the perfect cocktail for foodborne parasites, bacteria, and viruses to grow and flourish. It is a good idea to take some extra precautions while traveling.
According to CDC, 3000 people die each year due to foodborne illness. This number is much higher in other countries, especially underdeveloped countries and those with water issues. The WHO estimates around 2 million people die each year due to foodborne parasites, viruses, bacteria, and chemical substances.
But the good news is, food poisoning is preventable.
Here are some of the tips which might come in handy during your trip.
#1 Pack smart and plan ahead.
You should always pack based on the place you are planning to visit. If you are visiting a region where there is not enough access to safe water, stock up on some water bottles before going out to explore. Knowing you have clean water is a MUST! Similarly, if you are visiting a region where proper sanitization is an issue, then carrying a hand sanitizer with you is also a good option. It is a good idea to be aware of any food safety issues in the country you plan to visit. Pack a medicine kit with you in case you do become ill.
#2 Research thoroughly.
Not all the countries follow the same rules and regulations as the United States when it comes to food safety. Therefore, it is crucial that you know about the food regulations that your destination country follows. Just be aware of some common food practices, like freezing temperatures for seafood or cooking temperatures required by the restaurants, etc. These are important, as they are a part of your day to day eating practices.
#3 Eat safe foods.
You should always look for foods that are safe. Whenever you have doubt about your food, feel free to ask questions or just look for some other type of food. Look for thoroughly cooked fruits and vegetables and don’t go for raw ones until you know they have been washed safely (or in sanitized water) and you have peeled them yourself. Go for fruits that have thick covering like melons, bananas, and citrus fruits. It is highly recommended to only eat meat, poultry and seafood only if they have been cooked completely.
#4 Follow the locals.
When in Rome, eat as the Romans do! Just like you, the local population would also don’t want to fall victim to food poisoning. They have much better knowledge on which restaurants or street foods deliver high quality and safe food. This is a golden rule to follow if you are a big fan of street food.
So, go for restaurants and street food vendors where the most locals flock to – as that would be a much safer choice. Also, considering that there are a large number of people dining at the restaurant, the likelihood of fresh food getting served increases automatically.
#5 Avoid undercooked and raw foods like the plague.
You should try and avoid uncooked foods as much as possible, especially uncooked eggs, unpasteurized milk, meat, and seafood. Anything raw increases the chances of foodborne illness by a gazillion times. Do not fall victim to the myths that these foods are safer to eat just because they are from another country. You should also not go for foods that are not cooked properly or are steamed at high temperatures.
Eating raw or undercooked meats is one of the leading causes of foodborne illnesses and death, according to CDC. The most unsafe food products to have among the dairy are milk and soft cheeses.
#6 Steer clear of tap water.
Always opt for packaged and bottles water when you are traveling. Only go for tap water when you are sure that the water is completely sterilized. It is best to check if the seal of the packaged or bottles water is not broken, as vendors sometimes reuse containers and fill them up with unsafe water. If you are not able to find out safe water for some reason, then boil your water for 3 minutes to get rid of most of the pathogens in it. Avoid ice and juices from street vendors, too. Wash the local produce in clean and sanitized water before eating them. Water is home to a lot of parasites, bacteria, and viruses that can lead to illness.
#7 Watch out for bad food hygiene practices.
Before dining, do not hesitate to ask questions – like if the ice is made from tap water or purified water or if the sushi is made from raw seafood or not. You can also ask about how they prepare foods – like if they keep raw produce separate from raw meat. Do not visit restaurants during odd hours or if its rather empty. Apply the locals rule here, too. There are a few countries where street food is more popular than dining in restaurants like Thailand, Mexico, and India. You can choose to go for street food at these places instead of restaurants. Food stalls also give you an advantage of watching your food being cooked and handled in front of your eyes. Look for cleanliness and hot temperatures.
According to WHO, African and South East Asian regions are affected most by the foodborne illnesses. But, that’s not all. They also have the maximum number of deaths related to food poisoning. Northern and Western Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand are least likely countries for travelers to be affected by food poisoning. On the other hand, Mexico, Africa, Middle East and Central and South America have some of the worst-case statistics of food poisoning for foreign travelers.
What if I still get sick?
The best way to deal with food poisoning while travelling is to stay hydrated and stick to bland and safe foods. Drink your water, preferably sanitized water, and lots of it. It’s very necessary that you get these electrolyte rich fluids. Next, you could add probiotic foods and probiotics to your diet. They will help promote good bacteria and help the body to deal with the pathogen fast. Rest and seek medical attention if you notice signs of dehydration like dry lips, dizziness, etc., especially if your diarrhea is bloody or symptoms last for more than 2 days.
Lastly and a very important tip, wash your hands before eating your food! You don’t want to contaminate your own food with germy hands. Keeping an alcoholic sanitizer with you always can also help.
Bon voyage and safe travels!
By: Pooja Sharma, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)