Traveling overseas is a delight that we are able to enjoy with ease in the 21st century. It offers us new experiences through different cultures, histories, geographies and food. Unfortunately, the latter means travelers are at a high risk of developing food-borne illnesses.
There are three causes of food-borne illness: bacteria, parasites or viruses. Salmonella and E-coli are perhaps the best-known illnesses, both of which are caused by bacteria. Symptoms usually include diarrhea and sickness, which can be painful, exhausting and in certain circumstances dangerous. Pregnant women, older people and those with weaker immune systems should take extra care.
For those of us who like to experiment gastronomically while abroad, nothing can ruin a holiday quicker than illness. The important thing to remember is that preventing food-borne illness while traveling overseas is possible. Following these simple precautions will help considerably:
1) Food-borne illness occurs as a result of consuming contaminated food. Wherever you are in the world, be wary and mindful of any food you consume. This does not mean you must bypass local cuisine, just that you should remember to take precautions and give your stomach time to adjust.
2) Ensure that all foods of animal origin are fresh and cooked thoroughly. Cooking food to a high enough temperature will kill the majority of bacteria, for example Salmonella.
3) Only eat cold foods that have been kept properly chilled. Bacteria are capable of multiplying incredibly quickly in warm conditions.
4) Fruit and vegetables must be properly cleaned, and peeled where possible. Avoid salads as they may have been washed in contaminated water.
5) When choosing a place to eat try to pick venues where the eating area, kitchens and staff look clean and healthy. This suggests a good standard of food hygiene. Food vendors are not necessarily a no-no, as long as the food is fresh and they cook it properly right before your eyes.
6) Maintain a high standard of personal hygiene while traveling. After using the bathroom wash your hands with soap and dry thoroughly. Keep antibacterial wipes or gel handy throughout the day in case water and soap are not available.
7) Water is a major source of contamination alongside food. Do not drink tap water or consume anything that has had contact with it. Instead, choose bottled or canned drinks and water, and check that the seal is in tact. Avoid ice in drinks and do not brush your teeth in tap water.
My final tip is more of a holistic one. A friend insists that she has completely managed to avoid any sickness while traveling by taking a course of probiotics before and throughout her trips. Probiotics are said to increase the number of beneficial bacteria in our digestive systems, thereby boosting our immune levels. I have seen this suggestion appearing more frequently in travel guides and, on a personal level, found eating natural yogurt in Morocco lessened my sickness and diarrhea considerably compared to my partner. It was the only thing we ate differently.
Traveling overseas can be enormous fun. By taking these precautions and easing yourself gently into new foods you should be able to prevent food-borne illness ever taking over a vacation again. Bon appetit!