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    Monday, 14 November 2016

    Traveling Free and Clear - How to Avoid Food Poisoning


    Enjoying a nice meal beachside is an incomparable experience. To savour the flavours of freshly-caught seafood plucked from the ocean before you, how decadent. Ah, to relish the lingering notes on your palate as you adjourn to your room within the five-star villa … hang on. There’s a strange rumbling in your gut followed closely by painful pangs and unsolicited nausea. It’s happened, you’ve been poisoned. Don’t panic though; the symptoms of a food-borne illness only last for a few days. However, falling ill in the middle of a trip means the vacation is over. You’ll be confined to your room, retching for hours, unable to stomach food, dehydrated to the point of misery. It’s a less than ideal situation. In fact, it’s grounds for a one-star review on Trip Advisor.

    There’s nothing worse than putting time, effort and money into something only to have it ruined by something as simple as food or water. The chance of contracting some sort of illness while traveling is higher since the preparation of food and drink is taken out of your hands. Thankfully, educating yourself is half the battle. Familiarising yourself with the risks of traveling and indulging will help prevent the dreaded food poisoning.


    Research the Destination

    Some countries, by default, are riskier than others when it comes to food-borne illnesses. Differing hygiene practices and standards are the determining factors here. The CDC has designated certain locations as low, intermediate, or high risk areas.
    • Low Risk: U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Northern and Western Europe
    • Intermediate Risk: Eastern Europe, South Africa, some Caribbean Islands
    • High Risk: Asia, Middle East, Africa, Mexico, Central and South America


    Be Mindful of Work Practices

    A moment’s observation of the people working in an establishment will enlighten you as to whether good hygiene is practiced. Some key things to watch for:  kitchen staff has their hair restrained, those touching food have clean hands or are wearing gloves, no gum, and definitely no sneezing or coughing near food. Don’t forget to wash your hands before every meal, especially when using your hands to eat.


    Embody the Germaphobe

    Don’t be afraid to carry around a packet of disinfecting wipes and tissues with you on your travels. The tissues are just good sense. The wipes can be used on public transport, tables, armrests, door handles, and anything in your hotel room. Proper disinfecting wipes are alcohol-based and will kill any lingering germs on hard plastic surfaces.  


    Choose Dishes Wisely

    Buffets are a big no; dishes left sitting at room temperature are at a risk for contamination, including sauces. Street vendors should generally be approached with caution. It can be hard to ignore the piping, crackling call of street food while pounding the pavement, so if you must indulge, follow the crowds. Stands that have lots of business are probably safer to approach than others. Locals will know better than you what stands perpetuate traveller’s diarrhoea.

    Anything raw should be avoided entirely (no sushi or soft-cooked eggs for you!) as should fountain drinks, tap water, unpasteurised dairy products, unwashed produce and salads.  Dry foods like breads or crackers, bottled and sealed beverages, factory-sealed food, and produce that has been washed and/or peeled are all safe to consume while traveling. Certain spices, like chillies and turmeric, have anti-bacterial properties and will benefit you when included in meals. Opt for hot meals that are cooked to order since, even if the food is contaminated, germs will be killed in the high heat.  Refer to the CDC’s infographic (above) on what’s safe to eat to quell any doubts. A good rule to follow for food and drink is that if it’s meant to be served hot, make sure it’s hot on arrival. The same goes for cold things arriving cold.


    Restrict Your Liquids

    When faced with contaminated food, it can be a bit easier to avoid falling ill because of it (by choosing hot meals or peeling the skin off produce) than to contaminated water. Water can host bacteria friendlies including parasites and viruses potentially inflicting drinkers with hepatitis, cholera, and typhoid fever. Those are some serious problems, so please, just swallow your pride and buy bottled water. Be sure to check that bottles still have their plastic rings intact as some vendors have been known to fill bottles with tap water, using glue to reseal it. If you simply must drink the tap water, the FDA recommends boiling for three minutes to kill any pathogens. Those who refuse to pay for bottled water will find a portable water purifier a good investment. As satisfying as a cool drink is, avoid getting ice in your drinks since it is likely made of the same tap water as fountain drinks. Freshly-squeezed juice has the potential to be contaminated, so pass on that as well.

    Some drinks that will almost assuredly be safe:
    • Steaming drinks (tea, coffee, sake)
    • Alcohol
    • Pasteurised milk
    • Carbonated, bottled, canned beverages


    Pack the Pink Liquid

    Img source: Boots
    Make sure to bring something with bismuth subsalicylate (the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol) to counteract any nasty diarrhoea. Studies have proven that taking a daily dose of bismuth subsalicylate will decrease the chance of food poisoning by 50%. Pepto-Bismol is the most cost-effective way to get this protectant into your system. It comes in liquid or chewable tablet form and, according to the CDC, should be taken four times a day for up to three weeks to counteract the risk. In addition to the Pepto-Bismol, be prepared for other issues that may befall you in your travels. Bring your vitamins, ibuprofen, antibacterial ointment, and extra prescriptions of your personal medications. After all, it is best to be prepared. 


    Jacqui Litvan

    Jacqui Litvan, wielding a bachelor's degree in English, strives to create a world of fantasy amidst the ever-changing landscape of military life. Attempting to become a writer, she fuels herself with coffee (working as a barista) and music (spending free time as a raver).
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