Watch What You Eat

Contaminated food can transmit many preventable illnesses. Up to half of all international travellers will suffer from Travellers’ Diarrhea, often in the first few days of their trip. Others may have the misfortune of coming down with a more serious disease like Cholera, Hepatitis A, or Typhoid.

Knowledge, planning, and care can help you enjoy your trip and avoid the unpleasant after effects of unsafe food.

People who need to pay extra attention to their food choices while abroad include pregnant women, infants, the elderly, and people who have compromised immune systems.

Before you eat

  • Always wash your hands before you prepare or eat food and after using the toilet.
  • Carry sanitizing gel or alcohol wipes to use when you cannot wash your hands.

Meals away from your home base

  • Observe establishments before you buy food from them. Make sure their practices are sanitary.
  • Choose restaurants and cafes that are busy and popular.
  • Ensure that your dishes, cups, and utensils are clean. Use alcohol wipes to clean them if necessary.
  • Eat food that is freshly cooked to a high temperature and served hot.
  • Order your food well done, and only eat it if it is served hot.
  • Don’t eat food from street stands or market stalls unless you know that the vendors practice good food hygiene.
  • Avoid buffets that do not have food covers or insect screens.
  • Avoid leftovers or food that may have been:
    • reheated,
    • not kept hot, or
    • exposed to the air for any length of time.

Good food choices

  • Maintain a balanced diet by eating a variety of proteins, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and carbohydrates including breads and rice.
  • The rule of thumb is “boil it, peel it, cook it, or forget it!”
  • Eat raw nuts and raw fruit and vegetables that have skins, peels, or shells that you remove yourself.
  • Buy dairy products like cheese and ice cream from large, well-established retailers where you can be sure the products have been made from pasteurized milk.

Foods to avoid

  • Boil milk before you use it unless you are sure that it is pasteurized.
  • Avoid salads. They are easily contaminated, and their ingredients are difficult to clean.
  • Don’t eat cold sauces such as mayonnaise, salad dressing, and salsa that contain raw ingredients or are made by hand.
  • Don’t eat raw or undercooked meat, fish, or eggs.
  • Fish and shellfish can be hazardous at certain times of the year, even if well cooked. Follow local practices about seafood, and when in doubt avoid it.
  • Avoid carnivorous fish from reef areas, as these may contain toxins.

General guidelines

  • Try new foods gradually. Give your body time to adjust to new ingredients and cooking methods.
  • Bring along a few granola bars in case your safe food choices are limited.
  • Take appropriate precautions, but don’t forget to enjoy new eating experiences.

Is your stomach more sensitive than most?

Anyone can become sick from eating contaminated food, but some people are more vulnerable. If you are susceptible to traveller’s diarrhea, chewing Pepto-Bismol tablets shortly before each meal may help to lessen or prevent symptoms. You might also benefit from having some antibiotics or anti-diarrheal medication on hand. You can get advice and prescriptions from your travel medicine specialist when you receive your immunizations.