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  • Writer's pictureKevin Oleson

Do you think about food safety when traveling outside the US?

Here is a link to a group which has great suggestions for keeping your self safe from unsafe foods while traveling outside the United States.



Here's some of their great recommendations:


KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Food poisoning while traveling is normally caused by consuming contaminated food or water, with different pathogens posing a higher risk to foreigners unaccustomed to local diets.

  • “Traveler’s sickness,” the most common type of food poisoning among travelers, is usually caused by bacteria in hot or humid climates and can lead to symptoms like diarrhea and abdominal pain.

  • Certain foods and beverages, such as street food, salads, buffet food, unpasteurized dairy, and tap water, pose a higher risk of foodborne illness due to factors like inadequate refrigeration and poor sanitation.

  • For safer eating and drinking while traveling, it’s recommended to drink bottled water, avoid street food with poor sanitation, opt for sit-down restaurants, and choose cooked foods over raw.

  • After returning from travel, it’s important to monitor your health and check in with your doctor, as some foodborne illnesses can have delayed symptoms.


Foods To Be Cautious of When Traveling

Any type of food or beverage has the potential to cause food poisoning, but certain items are more likely to be contaminated than others. Although the risk of sickness can’t be completely eliminated, being particularly cautious around specific types of food and beverages can greatly reduce your likelihood of contracting a foodborne illness. This is especially important for individuals at increased risk for food poisoning, such as young children, pregnant women, and older individuals.

Street Food

“Street food” includes any type of prepared food sold by a vendor in a market or at a roadside stand for immediate consumption. This food category is a popular and convenient option for travelers looking for an authentic bite to eat, but street vendors often do not maintain the same cleanliness and sanitation standards as restaurants. For example, outdoor food stands may not have proper refrigeration or hand-washing facilities, which makes food contamination more likely.

Salads or Fresh Produce Items

Salads, cut fruit, and other items containing fresh produce may seem like a healthy option while traveling, but they also pose a heightened risk for foodborne illness. Raw produce often contains harmful bacteria or parasites introduced through the soil, water, or food-handling practices during harvesting and packaging. 

Washing fresh produce reduces the risk of unsafe contamination to safe levels. However, remember that food safety standards in some destinations may not involve rigorous washing protocols.

Buffet Food

Buffet-style dining is common in many travel destinations, especially in all-inclusive cruises and resorts. While a buffet’s variety and abundance may seem tempting on a busy travel day, food safety risks are higher in these settings. Buffet food is often left at room temperature for extended periods, which increases the risk of bacterial growth. Additionally, guests with unwashed hands may touch shared serving utensils, potentially contaminating the food with any pathogens they’ve been exposed to. Norovirus is a common foodborne illness from buffet-style dining.

Unpasteurized Milk and Dairy Products

Pasteurization is a process that kills bacteria naturally occurring in milk and dairy products. Many countries require pasteurization of all milk and dairy sold within their borders, but unpasteurized (“raw”) dairy products are readily available for purchase in many parts of the world. While these products are often considered cultural delicacies, they can also carry harmful bacteria like E. coli, Listeria, and salmonella.

Tap Water and Ice

Water treatment standards vary widely around the world, and tap water in some destinations may not be safe for consumption. Drinking contaminated water can lead to severe illnesses like Rotavirus, E. coli, and Hepatitis A. Because freezing does not kill bacteria and other pathogens, the same goes for ice cubes made from tap water. 

Before you embark on your next international adventure, check the Sanitation & Drinking Water rankings created by the Environmental Performance Index at Yale University to investigate your destination’s tap water quality. If your destination ranks low, stick to bottled water and avoid ice cubes in drinks.

Bushmeat

Trying exotic dishes is often a highlight for adventurous international travelers. For example, in markets around the world, you can find monkey, bat, and rodent meat available for consumption. However, it’s best to avoid consuming the meat of wild animals, otherwise known as “bushmeat,” as it can carry extremely dangerous bacteria and viruses (e.g., Ebola). It’s also important to consider the impact of consuming endangered or protected species. In many cases, doing so is highly illegal. 


What Is Safe To Eat and Drink While Traveling?

When considering food safety for travelers, you may find it easier to focus more on what is safe to eat than what is not. Complete food safety can never be guaranteed, but certain categories of food and beverages are safer to consume than others while traveling.

1. Foods Served at Hot Temperatures

Heat kills bacteria at temperatures of 165°F (74°C) and above, so it’s usually safe to eat foods that have been thoroughly cooked and served while hot. Be cautious with food that has gone cold or is kept hot for an extended period using warming lamps. 

2. Packaged or Preserved Foods

Bacteria need moisture and oxygen to grow. Pre-packaged foods both eliminate moisture and limit the availability of oxygen, so they are usually safe to eat if they remain sealed. Familiar examples include crackers, chips, canned goods, boxed meals, and dried foods (e.g., jerky and fruits).

3. Cooked Meats

Meat must be cooked to a safe internal temperature to kill any bacteria present. The more “well done” the meat, the lower the risk of contracting foodborne illness. Stick to well-cooked meats, seafood, and poultry when traveling to maximize safety.

4. Washed Vegetables and Fruits

Again, unwashed fruits and vegetables can carry bacteria that may make you sick, but washing them before consumption significantly reduces the risk. If you’re unsure about the sanitation practices at your destination, it’s best to opt for cooked produce instead.

5. Bottled Water

Bottled water is a safe option for staying hydrated while traveling, especially in developing countries where tap water may not be safe to drink. To stay on the safe side, avoid drinking local tap water altogether.

6. Pasteurized Juices

Another safe beverage option is pasteurized juice. Not all juice is pasteurized, so be sure to check labels before consuming.

7. Beer, Wine, and Other Alcoholic Drinks

Alcohol doesn’t always eliminate bacteria, but it does discourage bacterial growth. However, other food safety precautions still apply here, especially when consuming mixed beverages. Alcoholic beverages containing ice, garnished with fresh produce, or mixed with potentially contaminated water can still pose a food safety risk. 

8. Soda and Other Bottled Drinks

Soda and other bottled drinks are generally safe to consume as long as their seal is intact. Just remember to avoid adding ice to your drinks in destinations with questionable tap water quality.

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