How to Eat Safely When Traveling

By on June 23, 2015

Learning how to eat safely when traveling is an important skill to acquire, no matter where you’re planning to travel.

One of the best things about visiting far off lands is sampling the local flavors, but you don’t want is to get ill while you’re experiencing the culinary delights of your destination. Here are some tips to keep you healthy.

Be Careful About Tap Water

You’ve probably heard this one before, but it’s important enough to repeat because it’s one of the world’s leading causes of illness. You can get everything from travelers’ diarrhea to cholera from contaminated water, and the contamination almost always comes from human or animal feces.

So how can you stay healthy?

Do the research. To start, research your destination in advance to find out if water safety is an issue. Don’t assume that because the locals drink it you can too.

Stick with bottles, cans, and hot stuff. If you have any doubt about the water’s safety, stick to sealed bottled water, other drinks sealed in a bottle or can, or boiled drinks like coffee and tea (providing it’s served hot).

Wash the outside of the container. You also need to be aware that the outside of your bottle or can may be contaminated, so be sure to wipe it down thoroughly and let the outside of it dry completely before opening it to minimize contaminating the drink.

Use bottled water to brush your teeth. Also make sure you use bottled water to rinse your toothbrush.

Keep your mouth closed in the shower.

Stay away from ice. Ice is made from… water. Water that’s most likely contaminated. Don’t use ice.

How to Eat Safely When Traveling

Boil It, Cook It, Peel It, or Leave It

One of the things you’ll hear repeatedly from the experts when it comes to how to eat safely when traveling is to “boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it.” Essentially that means you need to make sure your hot vittles are boiled or cooked thoroughly, especially meats, poultry, and any kind of sausage.

If you’re looking for fresh fruit or veggies in an area where water contamination is an issue, make sure it’s something you can peel (like a banana or orange). Of course, if it’s something you can cook, like broccoli, don’t worry.   Fresh salads can be an issue.

My Vinegar Trick

Although it’s not something usually recommend by experts, this is something I learned about how to eat safely when traveling or at home. I soak all my fruits and veggies, including salad, in vinegar for a few minutes. Then I rinse thoroughly with clean water (tap or bottled if tap isn’t safe).

I’ve been using this trick for years, even when I lived in the US during the many recalls, and I haven’t gotten sick yet (neither has the rest of the family), even though I eat salads daily. Just because this works for me, doesn’t guarantee it will work for you, so do it at your own risk.

Watch For Good Hygiene

Whether you’re eating at a fancy restaurant or a street vendor, good hygiene is important to your food’s preparation and how to eat safely when traveling. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard to tell the good from the bad. Here are a few how to eat safely when traveling hygiene tips:

  • In a nicer restaurant, check the bathroom. If the bathrooms are kept clean, chances are the kitchen is too.
  • Make sure there aren’t a lot of flies around. They carry a lot of disease and can contaminate food when they land on it.
  • Street vendors in carts or food stalls should have access to clean water when they’re cooking and serving food. If they don’t, they’re not washing their hands when needed.
  • Make sure cooks and servers aren’t coughing over plates, wiping their noses, or running their hands through their hair.
  • Avoid buffet lines. People cough and talk over the food regularly, it’s often not kept hot enough to kill germs, people reach in with their hands, and customers often use a dirty plate for seconds.
  • Stay away from food that’s been kept out in the hot sun.

Don’t Be Afraid To Eat Local

After all that, I don’t want you to fear eating local food. Some of the best food I’ve ever had was out of a cart or a tiny booth on the street.

You just have to use some common sense.

If it smells bad when you walk into a place, politely turn around.

If there’s a ton of flies buzzing around a vendor’s cart, don’t stop.

If the cook at a food stall looks like they haven’t washed their clothes in a week and their four year old keeps reaching into the pot to pick out his dinner, then keep walking (this happens more often than you think).

How to Eat Safely When Traveling

On the other hand…

But on the other hand, if there’s always a line in front of a stall or food cart, don’t be afraid to try it. The locals always know what’s good.

Hopefully this little guide on how to eat safely when traveling has helped you to keep healthy. If I’ve missed something, please let me now in the comments below.

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