Avoiding Food Poisoning on Vacation
Staying healthy on Vacation
Announcing that you are heading off to an exotic location for a few weeks will undoubtedly make you the recipient of much unsolicited advice on how to avoid Delhi Belly or Montezuma's Revenge. Don't eat anything uncooked, certainly not the salad! Don't drink the water!
Experienced Travelers Stay Healthy
Don't take ice in your drinks!Don't eat from the food stalls!Well I have travelled to a lot of countries : 55 at last count. I have in general travelled cheap, eaten at local restaurants and street stalls. I love to eat and try new stuff, I like ice in my drinks and drink a lot of water. How often have I got sick? Five times as far as I can remember. I mean in bed, on the toilet, can't think about leaving the room for between 24 hours and a couple of days, sick. One of those times was in Australia, another in Ireland - not exactly high risk countries. I spent a total of 4 months travelling in India, not sick at all.
So what makes you sick? Often as not it's actually the cutlery or plates which have been washed in contaminated water. Or the oil or ghee is rancid. Eating at a street stall where they are grilling in front of you is as safe as it gets. Anywhere you can see the food being prepared is probably safer than somewhere with a kitchen hidden out the back.
Tips to Avoid Food Poisoning
- Eat where everyone else eats: and eat what they are eating. Don't order tofu in a fish restaurant as a friend of mine did - she was really ill -the tofu had probably been at the restaurant for longer than she'd been in Thailand!
- Don't eat from the American or English menu, the locals don't know how to cook it and the ingredients will have been lying around too long - order what the locals are eating by pointing at nearby tables - it there is no one at the nearby tables - find another restaurant!
- It's safer to accept food on paper plates or banana skins than something that needs to be washed. Take your own plastic fork or throwaway chopsticks. Last resort - use your hands - there will almost always be a basin to wash your hands in at a cheap restaurant - and so long as you dry them well they should be reasonably sanitary.
- Rancid oil or ghee can make you violently sick and the taste is not obvious. I find it hard to pick but again going for the busy restaurant will probably avoid the problem. Or avoid ordering deep fried food.
Get used to the local food
How did I get violently ill after a birthday lunch at a very exclusive Country House restaurant in Ireland? I don't think it was the food, no one else got sick, I think it was my body. Lunch was a set 4 or 5 courses: it was traditional Irish cuisine, full of heavy cream sauces and excellent cheese and beautiful cream deserts. I usually have a filled roll for lunch. I was still a bit jet lagged having flown around the world a few days earlier. I think my stomach objected to being over fed at what, my body still half thought of as the middle of the night. Listen to your body, if it doesn't want to eat what's in front of you don't.
If all you ever eat is 3 vegetables, meat and potatoes, never eat chilli, or stir-fry or noodles or rice. You then fly to Asia for a 2 week vacation and start eating rice, noodles, chicken, spices 2 or 3 times a day - do you think you will get sick - probably - is it the food - no - I think it's you changing your eating habits over-night. Try doing it at home: start eating out at an Indian or Thai restaurant twice a day for a week - does your body react? Do you have food poisoning? Probably not, but you probably feel bad. Do a bit of trip preparation by varying your diet and eating the cuisine you are going to encounter overseas: a nice thing to do to get into the spirit of travel anyway!
Drink the Ice and Water!
The ice in developing countries and the water are probably safer than the food! They are certainly safer than getting dehydrated!
The ice is not made at the restaurant you are at - they order it in from the ice plant along with the bottled water. Everyone in the 3rd world who can afford to, drinks bottled water, and that's what the make the ice from. You will never be offered anything but purified water in a restaurant, no matter how cheap, even if its just in an open jug. However if you demand sealed bottled water you are probably making them quite a lot of money so go for it!
Lis Sowerbutts has been traveling since age 7, and has to date visited over 55 countries. She firmly believes in travel for the over-30's and that you are never too late to start traveling
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