Don’t Eat That! Tips To Avoid Food Poisoning While Traveling3 min read
Nothing can cause a vacation or business trip to come to a screeching halt quite like food poisoning. Eating or drinking the wrong thing can leave you trapped in your hotel room. Not only does it make you feel absolutely miserable, but your trip will be ruined too.
Food poisoning, which is the colloquial term for food-borne illness, is defined as an illness caused by eating contaminated food. The most common causes of food poisoning are infectious organisms, including bacteria, viruses and parasites, or their toxins. They can contaminate food at any point during processing or production.
Symptoms of food poisoning – we’re talking about nausea, vomiting or diarrhea – can begin within hours of eating contaminated food.
If you’ve been plagued by food poisoning (also known as traveler’s diarrhea) on a trip before, you’re not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control, traveler’s diarrhea affects 30 to 70 percent of travelers depending on their destination. While some destinations offer a higher risk, food poisoning can really strike anywhere due to poor hygiene practices in restaurants.
Unfortunately, you can’t entirely prevent food poisoning if you’re not in control of your food from the moment it’s harvested until you eat it, no matter where you are. There are some foods that pose more of a risk of food-borne illness than others, including raw or undercooked meats, seafood, raw and unpeeled produce.
To make sure you avoid food poisoning and ruining your trip, here are some red flags you should look for:
First of all, you should avoid buffets at all costs – dishes that are warmed up or left sitting out pose a greater risk of being contaminated. Steer clear of any moist food that is room temperature, including sauces. You should opt for food that is freshly cooked and hot instead.
In general, just avoid food from street vendors for reasons similar to avoiding buffets. You should also avoid unpasteurized milk and dairy products, including ice cream.
When it comes to your fruits and veggies, stick to the ones you can peel yourself, like bananas, oranges and avocados. Salads, sliced and unpeelable fruits, such as grapes and berries, pose a food poisoning risk because, depending on where you are in the world, they very well may have been washed in contaminated water.
When it comes to your beverages, your 100 percent safest option is drinking bottled water while avoiding water from a tap, well or stream. You should also use that bottled water to brush your teeth and mix baby formula. If you have to consume local water, boil it for three minutes.
Drinking alcohol is okay, but skip the ice cubes in your drink. The alcohol in your drink won’t keep you safe from contaminated water or ice. Some mixed fruit juices can contain local water too, so you should avoid those as well. Feel free to drink canned or bottled drinks as long as you break the seals on their containers yourself. Before you drink or pour your drink, you should wipe off the can or bottle.
If you order a hot beverage like coffee or tea, make sure it’s steaming hot.
You can contaminate your own food! Remember to clean your hands before eating, either with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. In general, you should avoid touching your face, mouth and mucous membranes with your hands while you’re traveling.
Outside of your dining experiences, avoid swimming in water that may be contaminated and keep your mouth closed in the shower. That water could also make you sick.
Some doctors recommend packing bismuth subsalicylate (BSS) for your trip, which is the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol. Some studies have found that taking 2 ounces of liquid or two chewable tablets four times each day can reduce the incidence of traveler’s diarrhea from 40 percent to 14 percent.
All of these do’s and don’ts may seem like a tremendous amount of information to remember, especially if you’re busy having fun on a vacation. When in doubt, follow this simple rule: Boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it.
Photo from Wendy House.