Food Poisoning: How to Avoid It

Street Food

[kjekol] / [iStock] / Thinkstock

Aside from getting arrested or mauled by a polar bear, getting food poisoning while traveling is one of the best ways to ruin an otherwise fabulous trip. With a sensitive stomach and a penchant for making poor decisions where delicious but dubious food vendors are concerned, I speak from experience. A lot of it. The best case scenario is that you’re confined to your room for a day or two, certain that you’re on the verge of death, and vowing you’ll never eat again. Worst case scenario is a trip to the doctor’s office. If that doesn’t sound that bad to you, you have to imagine wandering around an unknown city in another country, staggering into the hospital, and trying to communicate that you feel like you’re dying to a doctor whose language you don’t speak. Fun.

Clearly, the best way to make sure that food poisoning doesn’t ruin your trip is to make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place. In order to avoid spending your trip in a hospital or curled up on the bathroom floor, follow these rules.

Talk to Your Doctor
Before you set off, meet with your healthcare provider to discuss any recommendations they might have for the specific region you’re traveling or any other suggestions on how to give your immune system that extra little boost before you leave.

Purified Water
Always drink bottled water if you can help it. If you have even the remotest of doubts about the water, treat it. Watch out for ice cubes. For tips on treating water while traveling, check out this post. Watch out for local drinks that have been mixed with untreated water. Passion fruit juice is amazing, but always make sure that the water used to make the juice was boiled or treated beforehand.

Avoid Street Vendors
Avoid eating seafood, raw dairy products, or undercooked meat, particularly at hole in the wall places or street vendors. I’m all for being a bold adventurer, but where food is concerned, it’s generally best to yield to caution. Given the choice between a mediocre meal at a popular tourist restaurant and potential food poisoning at some amazing local dive, always go with bland and boring food. I know it’s tempting to ignore this. Trust me, I know, but if you get food poisoning you won’t be sampling much of any local cuisine.

Hand Sanitizer
Always wash your hands before eating. Invest in a small container of hand sanitizer and keep it in your bag for those times when you don’t have access to soap and water.

Eat Small Portions
Even a small amount of contaminated food will get you sick, but eating smaller portions can help minimize the effects. It will also allow your body to get used to any new foods and cooking methods.

Avoid Raw Fruits and Vegetables
Unless it has a peel on it (banana or avocado), best to avoid eating it raw.

If You Get Sick Anyway…
If your symptoms (nausea, vomiting, cramping, diarrhea) persist beyond two to three days, you should visit a doctor immediately. If you have a less serious case of food poisoning, there isn’t much you can do besides rest, hydrate, and wait for the bug to flush itself out. You can also call your mom and tell her you’re dying and that you’re sure about it this time. I don’t know if it helps, but that’s what I always do and I’ve survived each time. Can’t hurt.

By Nikki Hodgson