How to Avoid Food Sickness in Other Countries

woman eating

Few things are worse than getting a food-borne illness while on vacation in another country. One minute, you could be enjoying some exotic foods, and the next, you’re making a mad dash to the bathroom.

British, American, Japanese, or Indian cuisine: whatever food you’re going to try, here’s what you should know:

1. Don’t drink the tap water

Let’s start with a non-food item: water. Water abroad might be entirely different from the water at home. For one, it can contain pathogens that are not recognized by your immune system, which can cause illness (or at least mild discomfort) if you happen to drink it. On the other hand, the water might contain bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella, and cholera, causing a whole slew of gastrointestinal problems.

If you want to avoid getting a water-borne illness during your vacation, don’t drink the service water. Instead, ask for bottled water. The same goes for ice, as well as food and drinks made with ice or served on ice (e.g., milkshakes, homemade ice cream, sushi, etc.)

2. Avoid raw food

Raw food can contain harmful bacteria and pathogens that cause food-borne illness. Although locals might be able to eat pathogen-containing foods without any issues, your stomach is not used to it and will react.

When traveling in another country, avoid raw food such as:

  • Raw seafood
  • Salads
  • Raw meats
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Unpasteurized dairy
  • Raw eggs

If you want to eat raw produce, always wash, peel, or cook it.

3. Be careful when eating out

Exploring the local cuisine is a must when traveling in another country. However, keep in mind that eating out can put you at risk of food-borne illnesses if you’re not careful.

To minimize the risk of food-borne illness while eating out, take note of the following tips:

  • When choosing a restaurant, try to read reviews online and see if they have any complaints about sanitation.
  • Avoid buying food from street vendors as much as possible. If you want to try it, ensure that the food is served hot and the cart or kiosk is clean.
  • Steer clear from places with lots of flies and other insects that can spread bacteria.
  • If you know someone in the area, ask them about restaurants that are safe for foreign tummies.
  • Try to go to busy places where there is a high chance that food will be served fresh
  • Avoid potentially dangerous exotic dishes that are made from wild animal meat
  • Avoid buffet-style restaurants and other places where food sits at room temperature for a long time.
  • Use your own cutlery.

4. Wash your hands

Always, always wash your hands before and after eating. This can help prevent the transfer of illness-causing bacteria from place to place. If you are suspicious about the water from the faucet, use hand sanitizer instead.

people eating together

5. Bring snacks and non-perishables

There might be a point in your trip where it’s risky to eat the food around you. Until you can find a safe restaurant, stave off your hunger with snacks. Non-perishables should also keep you fed in case of emergencies.

6. Pack medication

Even if you take all the food safety precautions you can think of, the risk of contracting a food-borne illness is never zero. That said, bring over-the-counter medication with you, including medication for diarrhea, heartburn, and constipation.

7. Ask about allergens

If you have food allergies, traveling in another country comes with an added layer of risk. Hence, asking about potential allergens is a must, especially with dishes that you are unfamiliar with.

If you’re traveling to a country where you don’t know the language, be ready with translations to ask the server about allergens in the food. Also, take note of the translated phrase to ask them not to put a particular ingredient that you are allergic to, just in case.

8. When in doubt, walk away

If you’re not sure if your stomach can handle a certain food, or if you think that the dish has not been prepared safely, don’t take the risk. As much as you might want to try the tasty meal in front of you, it’s not worth going on an impromptu trip to the hospital for it.

Food is often the best part of traveling, especially in a foreign country. However, don’t let your foodie side cloud your better judgment lest you end up with a bad case of food poisoning.

Do you have more food safety advice to share? Share it with us in the comments below.

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