One of the pleasures of traveling in foreign countries is enjoying the variety of different foods that a culture may offer. But what many travelers don’t realize is that, like water, certain foods can also make you very sick. Salmonella, E-coli and parasites can all wreak havoc on your body once they enter your digestive system.
Be cautious and selective about what you eat and where you buy your food from. After all, your health should be your first priority when traveling. Use some common sense when deciding on where you eat and what you are eating. Does your stomach get upset easily? How clean is the establishment? Are there other foreigners eating there? I have traveled with people who could eat from street vendors and not get sick, while others were throwing up and sick for days.
Take your time getting into the local cuisine and let your stomach adjust to the foods. Try new foods gradually rather than eating a lot of something you may be unsure of. Remember too that some food poisoning symptoms may not appear until a couple of days after eating the contaminated food. Foods that are generally safe to eat include:
- well-cooked foods, served very hot
- breads, tortillas and other baked goods
- freshly-boiled foods such as beans, rice and pasta, served hot
- canned foods
Foods that should be avoided or may be risky:
- leafy or uncooked vegetables and salads. They may have been washed in untreated water or contain bacteria and parasites.
- fruits, nuts and vegetables, unless they have a thick skin or shell which you have peeled yourself
- undercooked or cold meats or fish which can contain parasites
- large fish, especially from reef areas, may contain toxins
- unpasteurized dairy products such as cheese or yogurt are ideal breeding grounds for germs. If you are not sure if a product is pasteurized, either ask or don’t use it.
- food from street vendors or from restaurants that appear unclean
- buffet foods, unless you know they are safe. The food may have been sitting out for a while.
It’s important to have an open mind and be willing to eat authentic local foods of the country you’re traveling in. Eating new and different foods is an important part of any learning experience when traveling. Explore a little and you may find some delicious and exciting new tastes. Just use some common sense about what you put into your body.
If saving money is important to you then try to avoid restaurants and shop for your food at markets or buy it prepared from street vendors. When eating in a restaurant or from a street vendor, be observant of the preparation methods, location of the food service, and cleanliness of the establishment. If you walk into a restaurant and there is only one local sitting there, consider the above. It may be a secret sweet spot of unimaginably good food that no-one knows about, or it may be a nightmare for cast-iron stomachs only. Talking to other travelers is usually a sure way of finding the good meals (and deals), but frequenting the tourist restaurants may not give you the authentic food you are looking for (or the price you want). Get away from tourist ‘hotspots’ and you will more than likely get away from the tourist restaurants as well.
Some of the greatest places I have found to buy foods are in outdoor public markets. These large collections of vendors usually offer the freshest foods and have the most variety. From breads and meats to fruits and sweets, markets will surely have what you are looking for, and with affordable prices as well. Most cities have a public market so just ask a local or another traveler where to find it. Once you have your food, you can take it virtually anywhere to relax and enjoy it - for free.
No matter how you eat, don’t plan on always having a full meal. That 10 hour train ride you are going on may not have food available. Plan ahead and buy some bread, cheese and drinks at the local store or market. The food that is usually sold on transportation is either poor quality or highly priced because they know that you have no choice if you’re hungry or thirsty. For example, a can of pop on the 3 hour Chunnel train ride between Paris and London costs around $5 Canadian - ouch!.
Whenever we go to a lesser developed country where we may be unsure of the food, we usually take a few meal replacement bars with us like Clif bars, Power Bars or the like. These things will get you through any sickness you may encounter as your stomach gets accustomed to local foods. If you are interested, print out the free four page booklet, A Guide on Safe Food for Travelers, produced by the World Health Organization.