What food safety precautions should I think about when travelling?

Trying local foods is one of the joys of travelling, but it pays to know which dishes to avoid, writes registered dietitian Nigel Denby...

3 mins

How many times have you run through your tickets, money and passport before you set off? Well, maybe add a note to gen up on food hygiene for travellers, too, as there are lots of food-borne hazards to be mindful of when you travel.

Taking precautions doesn’t mean ignoring local food, culture and customs; being a savvy traveller means you get all the enjoyment with minimal risk. Food- and water-related illnesses can vary from a touch of mild traveller’s tummy to more serious long-term matters, such as typhoid or hepatitis B. In the most severe cases, infections from viruses, bacteria and parasites can be fatal. Avoiding them is all in the planning, so check up on the destinations you are visiting to see if there are any common food-related issues you need to know about.

In countries with dubious water quality, avoid ice and – if you have no other option – drink only sealed and unopened bottled water. Better still, take a reusable filtered water bottle so that you can drink the local water safely and not add to the mountain of single-use plastic waste. Don’t be tempted to drink straight from fountains or hotel room taps, or from streams and rivers if you’re off-grid.

Avoid any raw meat, fish, shellfish or eggs if you have any doubts, including undercooked foods or rare-cooked meats. When eating fruits and veggies, they need to be thoroughly cooked, and avoid salads that may be rinsed with contaminated water. Raw fruits with thick peels are okay if you prepare them yourself.

If you’re being offered buffet food or shared plates, think about how long that food has been sitting in the heat. It doesn’t take long at all for bacteria to multiply at alarming rates on food, so where possible, choose refrigerated dishes or food that is piping hot.

My guiding principle is: if in doubt, leave it out. If the thought crosses your mind about whether something is safe to consume, it’s wise to assume it isn’t.

Five tips for eating well while travelling

1. It pays to consult a travel clinic before you set off, as you may need to update your vaccines. Also, bring over-the-counter remedies for diarrhoea, sickness and rehydration.
2.  We’ve all got used to having hand sanitiser, so pack some hygiene essentials. And make sure that your travel insurance is up to date and easily found if needed.
3. Wash your hands even more frequently than normal.
4. Stay hydrated and keep an eye on your urine – if it gets any darker than the colour of pale straw or white wine, you need to drink more. Dehydration can make you feel really sick, really quickly.
5. Good resources for travellers are the US (cdc.gov/travel) and UK governments’ travel-advice sites.

Knowing the risks

1 in 10 people fall ill each year after eating contaminated food (according to World Health Organization).

Bacteria such as E coli and salmonella are the most common causes of travellers’ diarrhoea.

Don’t use tap water to clean your teeth in areas with poor sanitation.

The Water-to-Go filter bottle can remove up to 99.9999% of contaminants from water. 


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