Protect Against Food Poisoning While Traveling

Although traveling to new destinations is a great way to experience different cultures, it can also bring people in contact with new germs and bacteria. Travel, time zone changes and late nights can weaken the immune system and increase the likelihood of getting sick. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 10 million overseas travelers contract diarrhea and other sicknesses each year from food and drinking water.

To help reduce exposure to germs and your chances of consuming foods or beverages that might be contaminated with foodborne pathogens when traveling, keep the following tips in mind.

Sanitize "High Touch" Areas

Germs linger longer on nonporous materials like plastic. When travelling via plane, train or bus, wipe down common surface areas such as tray tables, seat armrests and lavatory door handles with an alcohol-based wipe or gel before you use them. If you’re staying at a hotel, do the same for the TV remote controls, bathroom door handles and telephone.

Be Aware of Who is Handling the Food

Avoid establishments where the food handlers don’t practice good hygiene such as tying back their hair, wearing protective gloves and having clean hands and fingernails. If you see food servers touching their face, smoking, chewing gum, or sneezing or coughing near food, avoid purchasing food from that vendor.

Look for Crowds

When surveying the street food scene in any location, look for crowds -- locals get sick, too, and won’t return to stalls suspected of serving unsafe food, so if there’s a crowd it’s usually a safer choice to make.

Be Selective When Choosing Foods

Since raw food is subject to contamination, and does not have the benefit of a cooking process to reduce pathogens, travelers should try to avoid salads, uncooked vegetables and unpasteurized juices and milk products. Dry foods such as cakes, cookies, and bread are safer options.

Spice Things Up

Become familiar with spices, such as chilies and turmeric that are known to have anti-bacterial properties and seek out dishes that include them. Acidic fruits, such as citrus fruits and pineapple, are also safer bets when traveling.

Be Aware of the Local Water Quality

Avoid consuming beverages that may be mixed with the local tap water supply, such as juices or sodas from sources such as fountain machines. Be careful with beverages containing ice, since freezing does not kill most microorganisms. Beverages made with boiled water and served steaming hot (such as tea and coffee) are generally safe to drink.

Boil Tap Water Before Consuming

If you need to use tap water from an unknown source, be sure to boil it for several minutes first at a good rolling boil.

Not all Bottled Water is Safe

Bottled water products in other countries can be impure or even counterfeit (i.e. refilled from a local tap source), so always check the seal to ensure it is intact. Look for a certification mark on the bottle, such as the NSF Mark.

Avoid Over Handled Foods

Avoid foods that require a lot of handling before serving or that contain raw or under cooked meat or seafood. In most cases, foods that are boiled should be safe to consume.

Wash Vegetables and Fruit Prior to Eating

If you purchase fresh produce from a roadside stand be sure to wash and peel them before eating. Bacteria can be present on their exterior and when sliced can be carried into the edible section.  If you are travelling in an area with unsafe water, be sure to wash the produce with bottled or filtered water.

Eat Hot Foods Hot and Cold Foods Cold

If the dish you ordered is supposed to be served hot, make sure it is hot when it is served to you. The same is true for any foods that are intended to be served cold. Otherwise, it may not be safe to eat.

Remember the One-Hour Rule

Don’t consume any perishable foods that have been sitting out beyond one hour.

Wash Hands Before Eating or Handling Food

While watching what you eat and drink can help you avoid illness, the best action to take to maintain your health is to wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water, especially before eating or handling food. If fresh water is scarce, use antibacterial hand gels or wipes to help keep your hands clean, especially after using a restroom and before eating. If you are traveling with children, be sure they wash their hands, too. Visit scrubclub.org for more handwashing tips.

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