Food and Water Safety When Traveling Abroad

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Travelers who head to foreign countries face all sorts of experiences. Some, like a new culture or a different language or a strikingly alien landscape, can be breathtakingly enjoyable. Others, like a new set of microbes that your stomach has trouble dealing with, can be just the opposite. Unsafe food and water can cause a number of problems for travelers, particularly in developing countries. Norwalk virus, E. coli, and salmonella all pose health risks to travelers. However, you can minimize your chances of catching these or other nasty bugs by taking a few simple precautions.

The cardinal rule of eating and drinking abroad is to avoid the uncooked. Raw food, including unwashed vegetables and unpeeled fruits, poses a much higher risk of infection than food that has been cooked or is served hot. Risky foods include some you might not think of as raw, such as salsa prepared with fresh ingredients or popsicles and flavored ice, which might have been made with untreated water. Unpasteurized dairy products and undercooked eggs are also dangerous, as are foods served at room temperature. Seafood in general is notorious for causing gastrointestinal distress, and buying food from street vendors, while an exciting and convenient way to experience local culture, can be risky.

Beverages should be treated similarly to food. Bottled and sealed drinks are generally safe, and water that has been boiled, treated, or filtered is also unlikely to make you sick. Hot drinks like tea and coffee tend to be safe because they have been boiled. Just make sure to avoid using unpasteurized milk or cream to flavor them. Any drink made with untreated water poses an elevated risk of making you sick. Therefore, you should avoid reconstituted juice and fountain drinks. In areas with particularly virulent waterborne pathogens, even brushing your teeth with untreated water can pose a risk.

While food safety might seem like a depressing topic, it does not have to put a damper on your trip. Sticking to piping hot food and drinks still lets you experience plenty of great cuisine, and you may find that by patronizing crowded establishments, you will find food and drinks that are both safe and delicious.

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