Donít Let Food Poisoning Spoil Your Vacation
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With the summer travel season in full swing, many are planning their vacations. Although traveling to new destinations is a great way to experience different cultures — one of the biggest parts being new food — 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.
"Trying new foods when traveling is one way many travelers experience the culture of their destination, but any trip — at home or abroad — will quickly be ruined if you eat food that has been improperly cooked or handled," said Cheryl Luptowski, Public Information Officer for NSF International, an independent public health and safety organization committed to protecting and improving human health on a global scale. "At NSF International, we have developed food safety recommendations for travelers to help them recognize food safety warning signs and reduce the likelihood of getting food poisoning during their vacation."
To help protect travelers from being exposed to germs or consuming foods and beverages that might be contaminated with foodborne pathogens that make people sick, 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 youíre 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 donít 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 wonít return to stalls suspected of serving unsafe food, so if thereís a crowd itís 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. Donít consume any perishable foods that have been sitting out beyond one hour.
- Wash hands before eating or handling food. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds 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.
"Following this food safety advice on vacation will reduce the likelihood of coming in contact with bacteria that can cause food poisoning," said Cheryl Luptowski. "However, if you do get sick while traveling, remember to drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration. If you experience severe abdominal cramps or pain, high fever, blood or mucus in your stool, and/or severe dehydration, contact a medical professional."