Traveler’s Illness: Why You Need to be Careful
Traveler’s illness can prove costly. Not just in terms of a medical bill, or illness but even death due to food poisoning! Whether you are in Mumbai or Mexico City, a traveler’s sickness can strike anywhere. Unless you watch out for the food and drink you take, you can never be too sure about escaping this. Whether you are a passionate foodie or an avid drinker, sometimes it’s just better to say no. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry. You need to find the middle ground between enjoying local cuisine and watching out for your stomach.
Understand that the food you eat at home may be oilier or spicier, but it will not impact you because your stomach is used to it. Also remember that there is a difference in the use of natural fertilizers which carry bacterial pathogens causing distress in the intestine. This is referred to as the traveler’s tummy.
Most of the foodborne illnesses can be found in unsafe dishes and raw fruits and vegetables. Your stomach can get infected by E.Coli infection, salmonellosis and norovirus. The foodborne illnesses are generally listed on the website of the World Health Organisation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Check these out before heading abroad. So, take care while traveling abroad and don’t let a fun-filled vacation turn into a nightmare. Something you can cook, wash or peel is the best option because the chances are high that it will not contain harmful infection-causing pathogens.
From cold meat dishes to cheese platters and buffet food or raw, tampered mayonnaise, the avenues for getting a tourist’s tummy are countless. Seafood leads to intestinal problems as fish or shellfish like clams, mussels and oysters can be contaminated. You should also avoid non-pasteurised items like yogurt and check for the date if you are drinking canned milk.
Tea and caffeinated beverages such as shakes can be a problem if you use contaminated milk. Cream from sealed containers if pasteurized is generally safe. Sealed packaging is a must for items such as mayonnaise, ketchup, and salad dressing. Portions should not be rare; instead, they should be well done or medium rare. Eat dishes only if they are served hot. Runny eggs or raw vegetables are a strict no-no. Beer/wine in other nations also may have different alcoholic content depending on which country you are in.
Watch What You Eat
While eating food from street vendors is risky, if the dish is hot, there is less of a problem. Don’t eat food from poorly keep kiosks which are not clean. Check the number of customers in the stall as well. Lesser the customers, longer the dishes would have been stored, prior to their being served. Opt for clean, safe food. The busyness of a restaurant or roadside eatery is a good barometer of that.
Another important thing you need to do is wash your hands before you eat. Safety lies in using clean water to wash your hands as well as cook your dishes in.
A Well Balanced Diet
The pregnant, elderly and those with weak immune systems are most susceptible to traveler’s disease. But eating an inadequate or unbalanced diet can even put healthy people at nutritional risk. Whether you follow irregular eating patterns or have food low in nutritional value, your health may be compromised. If you are in a bind over whether you should eat meat, you can find protein in eggs, nuts, tofu and lentils. Get your minerals and vitamins from the fruits and vegetables which are peeled. Drink safe water and stay hydrated, while making sure your diet is rich in bread/cereals as well. Vitamins and supplements can maintain a steady balance even if the diet is insufficient. Try energy bars for a safe option to access high nutritional value.
What to Avoid
Avoid Frozen Items
From ice cream to ice cubes, the danger in consuming frozen items is that it can lead to bacterial infection. How so? Well, the food is frozen for some time. But differences in temperature may cause it to melt a little and then refreeze thereby developing pathogens. Most countries do not use as much ice as the others, but even so, caution needs to be exercised.
Don’t Opt for Raw/ Semi-Cooked Eggs
Don’t eat raw or semi-cooked eggs- the CDC advises against it for a reason. Salmonella is a common impact of eating improperly cooked or raw eggs. Raw sauces which contain egg white such as hollandaise may also be harmful.
Sauce That Puts You In A Soup
Don’t opt for salsa, chutney and sauces which contain a blend of water and fresh herbs as ingredients such as these are the breeding ground for bacterial if the vegetables are not properly cooked or the water is impure.
Soda From A Fountain
CDC holds that you can drink soda only if it is sealed. Don’t go in for soda from a fountain or an uncapped bottle. Non-bottled water is another bad idea.
Partially Cooked/ Non-Cooked Meats and Seafood
Seafood including fish, lobster, crab, prawn, and shellfish and all of these are bacteria feasts, especially when they are semi-cooked. Raw or uncooked meat dishes put you at risk for tapeworm disease as well.
As per the FDA, raw dairy can also be a blot on your copybook. Why is this so? Quite simply because pasteurization processes vary from one nation to another. This makes the dairy product likely to have all sorts of bacteria such as salmonella, E.coli, and listeria.
Nutty About Fruits?
Here too, you need to be careful. Only eat fruits that come with a thick layer of skin which can be peeled away specifically bananas, oranges or pomegranates. Avoid berries, apples and strawberries because these can be exposed to bacteria and cause a problem in your stomach.
Exotic bacterial infections can not only strike you; they can really make you suffer. Even a stalk of celery or a cold soup can harbor all sorts of pathogens in it. Raw foods and vegetables can be dangerous because shredded or finely cut vegetables can offer a surface for pathogens to develop.
You have to be careful about fresh meat too. It may be rich in bacteria and if you see any wild game on the table, avoid it. Don’t go in for meat that has not been properly inspected.
This is another item on the menu which you need to strike out. If you washed fruit in safe water, but another’s hands have squeezed it, there’s still a risk of infection. Water in which mocktails or juice shakes are made may also be a suspect when it comes to tummy infections.
- If the dish you ordered is supposed to be served hot, then it should be hot when you’re served. If you’ve ordered hot rice with vegetables and you’re given a cold plate, it’s likely not fresh food.
- Foods that should be served cold such as desserts should feel cold when you eat it. If such food is warm, or hot, it means that it wasn’t refrigerated properly, making it home to contaminants.
- If you are not familiar with a particular dish or the ingredients that go into it, best not to eat it.
- Don’t try to experiment with foods at local markets unless you have a strong stomach. Many cultures don’t follow the same rules of hygiene to which you’re accustomed.
- Always check if the person cooking your food at an outside stall appears clean and uses plastic gloves while handling your food.
- Insist on a freshly washed plate when you’re served food.
- Wipe the edges of any cup or glass in which you’re served beverages. Sometimes glasses are not washed thoroughly at bars and pubs. Alternatively, you can carry your own glass and transfer the contents into it.
How To Eat Fruits And Vegetables Safely
- Eat fruits only after washing them thoroughly and peeling them. Buy fresh fruits off of farmer’s carts; these are likely to be safer.
- If the fruit looks soft or has flies buzzing around it, don’t eat it. It’s probably spoilt and contaminated by bacteria already.
- Discard fruits, especially bananas, if the peel looks black in some areas.
- Avoid squishy regional fruits such as chicku and custard apples; these break easily, and the peel is not solid enough to resist contamination when left out in the open.
- It’s safe to consume boiled vegetables. When vegetables are boiled, most of the bacteria they carry are destroyed.
- Don’t eat fresh vegetable salads unless you’re dining at a reputed, large restaurant. Fresh salads are likely to have more bacteria in them than cooked vegetables.
How To Eat Meat, Fish, Eggs And Dairy Safely
- Avoid dishes that contain raw or undercooked meat or seafood, to prevent salmonella infections.
- Avoid eating meat that’s rare, even if that’s your preference. Insist on thoroughly cooked meat.
- If you buy raw milk, even from a supermarket, boil it before use. It’s ok to consume milk raw if you can verify that it’s been pasteurized and sealed.
- If you’re eating at a small local restaurant, don’t order meat or fish off the menu. You might be served heated food that may or may not have been properly refrigerated.
- Seafood is sometimes cooked at low temperature, and that’s not enough to kill harmful bacteria. Always check for the source of shelled fish, and for how long the fish was kept outside without a cover. If you’re not sure about this, don’t order seafood at all.
- It’s safe to buy pasteurized yogurt and cheese from large supermarkets, but avoid buying local dairy.
How To Drink Safely
- If you must use tap water, then boil it thoroughly and cool it before drinking it.
- Drink hot beverages such as tea and coffee at restaurants.
- Avoid drinking milkshakes, cold milk, vegetable shakes and other drinks that are likely made using tap water.
- Avoid drinks that contain ice; freezing does not kill most microorganisms and ice in many countries is made of doubtful water.
- Not all bottled water sold abroad may meet international standards. In some countries, impure and even counterfeit bottled water is sold. Don’t drink bottled water unless the seal is secure.
- It’s safe to drink canned beverages, like diet coke. Also, it is safe to drink water treated with commercial iodine or chlorine tablets.
- Use boiled water to brush your teeth and rinse your mouth; avoid using tap water.
Ancient wisdom had always dictated that safety during the food gathering process was paramount. A compendium of unsafe berries and fruits was generally passed from one tribal elder to another. Even in modern times, with the expansion of technology, things have become different in some ways yet remained the same in others. When it comes to unsafe food and drinks, avoidance is the best policy, even in these present times!