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Avoiding Food and Water Illness When Away from Home

By on March 14, 2017

When traveling, eating is part of the fun. Not only does travel allow you to experience foods from other cultures, but it also allows you to experience foods you might not have the opportunity to eat very often: move over ham and cheese, it’s time to dine on something more exotic.

There are, however, some downsides to travel eating. When you’re traveling for a business that gives you a food allowance, you might not be worried about expense, believing that no meal is too pricey for corporate to approve. This is valid from a monetary standpoint, but foods from other parts of the world can force you to pay a different kind of price: they may have a costly affect on your body.

Whenever and wherever you travel, you risk food and waterborne illnesses. These can do anything from making you slightly nauseous to making you really sick. For these reasons, you need to be a little vigilant when traveling and eating: you need to think with your head and not with your taste buds.

Select Food Carefully: Ingesting food provides a pathway for infection to enter your body. According to the CDC, travelers are at greatest risk for E-Coli, dysentery, giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis, norovirus, and hepatitis A. To avoid infection, travel eaters should be cautious of what they put on their plates and in their mouths. In areas that do not have high sanitation standards, raw foods, such as salad, vegetables, and uncooked fish, should be avoided as should dairy products. A traveler’s best bet is to eat foods that are fully cooked: the heat destroys infectious agents. These foods should be eaten soon after they are pulled from oven; any food that sits out for hours at a time becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. Travelers should also dine in restaurants that have a good reputation; purchasing any type of food from a street cart or sidewalk diner can increase the risk of less-than-stellar preparation.

Be Vigilant of Food Allergies: If you have food allergies – an allergy to peanuts or shellfish, for example – you likely know all about eating with vigilance. This may be easier to do in your hometown than it is somewhere else. In certain areas, there are strict guidelines to avoid allergic reactions. For instance, a restaurant may only carry individual packets of peanut butter rather than jars that can more easily get mixed with other foods. This isn’t, however, the norm. Some restaurants may not list peanuts or shellfish as an ingredient, but they might have got mixed in accidentally. To avoid this, ask the staff specifically about their precautions for allergies. And, of course, always carry an EpiPen, just in case.

Be Cautious when Swimming: No one enters an ocean or a swimming pool with the purpose of drinking the water: a swimmer with a straw is not a sight you often see. Yet, swimmers occasionally swallow water, it just comes with the territory. A drink or two of sea or pool water may seem harmless, but at times it can be harmful. Heavily polluted lakes, rivers and oceans, particularly those known to contain human or animal sewage, should be avoided. But, if you really feel the need to take a dip, don’t submerge your head and don’t go near the water if you have an open cut. Pools that are treated with chlorine generally have less infectious agents – as chlorine is their enemy – but it might not kill all viruses. For this reason, it’s best to also stay out of pools when you have an open wound or, of course, an open mouth.

Drink Wisely: Some areas of the world do not have access to a filter or treatment system: their water may be contaminated. If contamination is possible, drinking tap water (including using ice cubes made from tap water) should be avoided. If tap water is all that is available, it should be boiled before it is consumed (sorry ice cubes, you’re out of luck). Water aside, some of the safer drinks to consume are bottled or canned beverages, beer, wine, and drinks made from boiling water, such as coffee,tea, or hot chocolate.

Whenever you are traveling, you are at risk for illness. If the airsickness or carsickness doesn’t get you, then the food or water illnesses just might. Being cautious and making wise choices in what you eat and drink is your best bet for staying healthy, assuring that your trip does not involve a trip to the hospital.


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