Let’s face it, there’s a high chance of getting food poisoning while travelling, especially if you travel through developing countries. Such an affliction can easily ruin the trip and even put your health in serious danger. Some even get put off going abroad because of this very reason. Although with proper precautions, you can protect yourself against these unpleasant surprises. Here are my tips on how to avoid food poisoning while travelling:
Avoid tap water
You should make it a point not to drink tap water or water served in restaurants from open jugs. The chances of such water being contaminated are high especially in certain countries (you should always check this before you go).
When you’re in the country buy a stock of branded filter water whose quality can be trusted. The bottled water should be bought from a city store or supermarket. If you buy from trusted sources then you lessen the chance of buying recycled bottles. As an extra precaution, you should check the seal. Don’t buy water bottles that have broken or tampered seals.
Get recommendations for hotels, hostels and restaurants before you go
Always do your research before you travel. Ask friends or find travel forums to find whether your accommodation is of a good standard. If you haven’t managed to do that ask local people/tourist information centres for recommendations when you arrive.
Also be picky about restaurants. Do not eat at wayside restaurants unless they are certified by travel authorities. Check the hygiene levels of a restaurant before settling down. What is the condition of the tablecloths? Are they stained? How are the waiters dressed? What is the condition of the menu card or the crockery in which food is served? You should never eat food in a restaurant that does not look sufficiently clean.
Insist on hot food
Another important precaution is to eat hot, cooked food. Food cooked in microwaves or coal-powered ovens destroys microbes, reducing the chances of food poisoning. There is no harm in having a hot cup of tea or coffee that has been brewed in front of you but avoid cold drinks unless they are bottled. Also avoid ice as far as possible because you have no way of knowing whether it has been made from clean, filtered water or not.
Avoid street food vendors
Food sold from a stall can be particularly dangerous. In many developing countries you can clearly see flies buzzing around, as well as smell rotten leftovers. There is always a high possibility of such food being infected because of the open environment. It is always best to buy fresh healthy fruit & vegetables – wash them, and if necessary, peel them yourself before eating.
Never gorge on seafood
When visiting coastal areas you should avoid gorging yourself on seafood. Seafood can be very dangerous if it is not properly cooked. You should also make it a point not to eat raw food such as non-pasteurized milk, cheese, raw meat, raw seafood or shellfish. Even if you think the seafood has been properly cooked in certain areas and countries avoid it completely.
Always carry emergency rations
A good practice is to carry a few bars of chocolate, a box of almonds, a few protein bars, and half a dozen apples and oranges. These can be used on those occasions when you fail to locate a hotel that looks hygienic or trustworthy. Also, always carry a bottle of purified or mineral water to quench your thirst. You can buy water purification tablets in travel shops. These are good to carry with you in an emergency.
Taking these precautions is not rocket science, and they can go a long way in minimising the chances of food poisoning if you follow them!
Written by Andrew Wang.