One of our biggest fears when travelling abroad is food poisoning. We know that truly experiencing a country involves trying its local cuisine, but we certainly don’t want to get sick while doing it. But how to know for sure if the food we are about to try is safe to eat?
Check the place before ordering
If the restaurant, takeaway or street vendor looks really dirty, their food is unlikely to be safe. Simple like this.
On the other hand, don’t get too picky. If you are backpacking, you might eventually eat whatever you find on the streets. So, instead of avoiding the experience all together, keep in mind a few tips:
Ask the staff in your hotel or hostel for the best places to eat out, and don’t be afraid to tell them that you are either on a budget or looking for a 5 star Michelin. Locals always know where food poisoning hits the news.
Follow the crowd: busy places are a sign of successful past experiences. They also keep the kitchen running non-stop, indicating freshly cooked food.
Trust you nose. If it tells you that something doesn’t smell right, run away from there.
Learn the vocabulary: learn a bit of the local language before travelling to a non-English speaking country. You should be prepared to talk about ingredients and cooking methods – this is especially important if you have a food allergy/restriction or if you are vegetarian.
Stick to hot food
Food which has been cooked thoroughly is less likely to be contaminated, as most bacteria don’t survive on high temperatures. So stay away from:
Raw vegetables and fruits;
Undercooked meat or poultry, especially pork from unreliable sources;
Hot food also usually means fresh and recently cooked, instead of something that has been long sitting out for long. And this is one of the reasons why is often a good idea to avoid seafood, as they are frequently cooked (if so) at low temperature.
Avoid tap water
The truth is that many cases of poisoning are caused by contaminated water. So, if you aren’t sure of its quality, drink only boiled or bottled water – same for brushing your teeth and washing your fruits and vegetables. And avoid ice in your drinks as well.
The bottom line:
Don’t let your fear of getting sick put you off. Try the local food, as this is one of the richest parts of any trip. Just keep your senses open for strange smells and dirt and you should be fine.
And remember to wash your hands with bottled water, especially before eating finger food. Sometimes, the source of contamination is on you.
Written by: Luciana Damasceno