Food safety while traveling! Food is hands down one of the best things about traveling abroad! So much of a country’s culture is tied up in its cuisine and it can be so much fun to try new flavors, textures, and dishes. Yet, knowing how to stay healthy and keep the food born illnesses away can be tricky sometimes. This article will address the basics of food safety while traveling and give you the tips you need to know so you can still eat exciting new foods, but avoid getting sick overseas. Let’s dive into it!
*Much of this article has come at the advice of our health care professionals. However, it is only meant to inform. For any questions or concerns always discuss beforehand with your own health care professionals. They are the best resource!
Food Safety While Traveling – The Basics
What is traveler’s diarrhea?
The most common sickness while traveling abroad, especially while traveling to developing countries, is travelers’ diarrhea. Getting travelers’ diarrhea while on vacation can make your trip miserable and seriously get in the way of your tour. We’ve had instances traveling where a member of our family gets really sick and will have to stay at the hotel all day and miss out on the fun things we have planned. The best way to prevent travelers’ diarrhea is to eat safe foods and avoid contaminated foods. We will cover that later in this post.
Should I take Cipro Just In Case?
Yes, we think it is a good idea to carry Cipro on you just in case! Cipro is an antibiotic that needs to be prescribed by a doctor. Try to visit your doctor a few weeks before your departure. Tell him where you are traveling to, what you will be doing and ask him to prescribe Cipro for you just in case you get sick. We try to always carry the medication CIPRO in our first aid kit just in case.
What Is Recommended In Terms Of Eating While Traveling? What Are Foods That Are Typically Safe To Consume?
Hot & Thoroughly Cooked Foods
The CDC says that some of the safest foods to eat when traveling are hot foods. Hot food that is cooked properly tends to kill the pesky little germs that cause you to get sick. This includes thoroughly cooked meats, veggies, rice, hard-cooked eggs, etc. Be very careful to not eat food that has been sitting out or has cooled down to room temperature as it could be contaminated again. This could include leftovers and buffets.
Packaged Or Sealed Foods
If you are concerned about getting sick, try to stick to foods and snacks that are in a sealed package as they tend to be safe. This includes chips, crackers, canned goods, candy, etc. Avoid eating any foods where the package or seal has been damaged or tampered with.
Fruits & Veggies That Have Been Washed With Clean Water And Peeled Yourself
Some of the best fruits I have EVER had have been in foreign countries like Morocco, Thailand, Costa Rica and Mexico. That being said, be very, very careful when it comes to consuming produce in some of these developing countries. The tap water tends to be contaminated in a lot of foreign countries and the water that washes that fruit or salad, can stay on the produce. For this reason, make sure you wash the produce with clean water (typically bottled water) and peel it yourself.
Pasteurized Dairy Products
Stick to dairy products that have been pasteurized as that process tends to kill the harmful bacteria that can make you sick. Most reputable restaurants will use pasteurized dairy products, but it’s always good to be aware!
Beverages That Are Typically Safe While Traveling
Bottled & Canned Drinks
We always drink factory-sealed bottled and canned drinks especially when we travel abroad. And whenever something looks particularly sketchy, we like to sip on Coca-cola. There is absolutely no evidence that Coke kills bacteria in the stomach, and it may be all in our head, but we swear it helps! But it is true that carbonated drinks are safest because the bubbles indicate that it was sealed correctly. It is also a good idea to drink the beverage out of the can or bottle and avoid pouring it into a cup that could be contaminated, but remember to wipe off the lip of the can before your mouth comes in contact with it.
Disinfected Water & Ice
Only consume water and ice that is safe to drink. We like to avoid ice altogether in countries where we know the tap water is unsafe to consume. As an extra safety precaution, we also sometimes brush our teeth with bottled water instead of tap water to avoid swallowing even the tiniest amount of contaminated water.
Steaming coffee and tea are safe to drink because the heat will most like kill the nasty bacteria. Be aware of what you add to those drinks like unpasteurized cream and especially unclean lemons or limes. I always forego the lemons and limes.
It is safe to drink pasteurized milk that comes from a sealed bottle or carton. Avoid milk that is served in an open container as it may have had the chance to become contaminated.
What Should You Avoid Eating On Vacation? What Are Foods To Avoid?
Avoid foods that haven’t been cooked at all or all the way through. This includes meats or seafood that haven’t been properly cooked, as well as soft, runny or undercooked eggs. Raw fruits and vegetables that haven’t been cooked at all can also pose a threat. Experts recommend steering clear of fruit platters and salads as the finely cut produce can offer a lot of surface area where the bacteria can live. Try to avoid salsas or other condiments that are made from raw food.
One of the most memorable things I saw in China were all of the street vendors selling exotic foods. Think fried spiders, snakes, scorpions, rabbit heads and other things. It is so cool and amazing to see how other cultures eat and live, but respectfully decline any street food that is offered to you if you feel concerned. This is because street vendors in other countries may not be held to the same safety and hygiene standards that your body is used to. It’s best out to the street markets and take in all the sites, smells, and sounds if you are prone to food-borne illnesses.
Bushmeat is another name for local wild game, most likely animals that are not typically eaten in Western Countries like bats, monkeys, cats, dogs or rodents. The CDC states that bushmeat can be a source or animal-origin diseases, such as Ebola or SARS and should be avoided.
Beverages To Avoid
Tap Water & Ice
We touched on this already but steer clear of tap water and ice made with tap water as it can make you sick. You can travel with a water straw like this, that will purify your water if you are in a crunch.
Drinks that come from the fountains are made by carbonating water and combining it with flavored syrup. Because this is done outside of a factory, the water could come from the tap, these drinks should be avoided.
Fresh Squeezed Juice
This goes along the lines of consuming raw fruits and vegetables. Just because it is in juice form does not make it safe to drink. The same goes for ice pops and other treats made from fresh-squeezed juice.
When In Doubt, Nibble It Out
One of the best things we have learned about food safety while traveling is to nibble and take little bites. Staying at a nice resort or eating at a nice restaurant does not guarantee that everything is always going to be uncontaminated and safe to eat. One of the places we got the most sick was eating food from a 5 star resort in Mexico. If you are about to eat something that seems sketchy, it is a good idea to “nibble” or eat small amounts of that food. My brother took it upon himself to eat about 20 chicken wings from said resort in Mexico and he was sooo sick. He may have experienced more mild symptoms if he only had one or two. A good rule of thumb is to eat little amounts of a lot of different foods so that if you do happen to eat something contaminated, it would only be a small amount.
This comes in handy for everyone: children and adults included. We always pack snacks with us wherever we go, but especially when we are in foreign countries. We always carry nuts, protein bars, fruit snacks and other familiar things to eat. Sometimes we tend to get sick of eating foreign food and it feels nice to eat something familiar. I’m telling you, a little peanut butter can go a long way when you are sick of eating curry. Especially if you are traveling with little ones in tow, it is a good idea to bring snacks along when a meal isn’t your favorite or when your little one is not an adventurous eater.
Is it okay to pack food in checked luggage?
Yes it is! Solid foods will pass through security. When we travelled to China a few years back, we all decided to take up precious weight and space in our luggage and pack snacks. I seriously think we had about 8 lbs of food in each piece of luggage. We had heard that food in China was not great and let me tell you, those snacks really came in handy! When all that is offered for breakfast is chicken feet and black beans (true story), having a protein bar and some trail mix really came in clutch. Let’s just say that we were clean out of our snacks when the trip came to an end. Visit the TSA website for more information on packing food in checked luggage.
Snacks are also really helpful for when there are special diets or allergies. I recently got diagnosed with Celiac Disease and I have found that it is a life saver to have some gluten-free snacks on me when I can’t find anything to eat.
Well friends, that is it! Health and safety is our primary concern while traveling. Following these simple tips will help minimize your risk of getting sick! Please let us know how you stay safe in the comments below.
*We are not doctors, these are just tips that have helped us stay safe and healthy while abroad. Contact your primary care physician if you have any questions.