Prevention of food borne illnesses while travelling

Your best defense against foodborne illnesses is to use common sense. The following tips for eating and drinking safely may be of assistance:

Water and other drinks

• The most common source of dietary problems while travelling is drinking water, including water with ice. Freezing water does not kill bacteria and ice cubes present the same problem that tap water does. You can safely make your own ice if you boil the water first.

• Bottled water is generally safe, but only in sealed, tamper-proof containers.

• Coffee and tea are generally harmless, but it's best to take your hot drinks black, without potentially contaminated milk. Cream from sealed containers, if pasteurized, is usually safe.

• It is usually safe to drink canned soda and juice, beer, wine and other alcoholic drinks.

Food hazards

It may be convenient, but it's often risky to purchase food from street vendors. Rather visit reputable restaurants.

• Raw foods such as salads, as well as fruits and vegetables without peels, are often contain harmful bacteria.

• Cold meat platters, cheese, buffet foods and unsealed mayonnaise are often home to rampant bacteria and should be avoided.

• Seafood dishes are notorious for causing intestinal problems, as fish accumulate contaminants from a wide variety of sources. Smaller fish tend to be safer. Fish organs and shellfish (such as clams, mussels and oysters) are usually best avoided.

• Avoid unpasteurized dairy products, including cheese and yogurt. Check labels for evidence of pasteurization; most canned milk is safe.

• Nuts and other shelled foods are usually a good choice.

• Avoid food that may have been rinsed in contaminated water, such as salad and fresh fruit. Fruits and vegetables you can peel yourself are usually safe.

• Condiments such as mayonnaise, ketchup and salad dressings are safest in sealed packages.

• Order portions "well done" or at least "medium well," and consume the food only if served hot. Be especially cautious of runny eggs and sandwiches with lots of raw vegetables.

Other sources of contamination

You don't need to drink contaminated water to be exposed; always consider additional exposure, for example the water you use to brush your teeth, or to clean your contact lenses or dentures. Be sure to use bottled, boiled or purified water for these purposes as well. Contaminated water can also make you sick if you swallow or inhale it while bathing, showering, or swimming.

Water Purification Tactics

Boiling water is generally the most effective way to remove parasite contamination. Maintain a rolling boil for at least one minute (longer at higher altitudes, where the boiling point may be lower). Let the water cool itself slowly without adding ice. Allow any sediments and particles to settle before drinking, and then decant the water from the top into another container.

Commerciallyavailable iodine or chlorine tablets kill bacteria and viruses, but are ineffective against some protozoa (like cryptosporidium). Iodine is the more effective of the two solutions, but is not recommended for long-term use, especially by pregnant women or travelers with a history of thyroid problems. Read directions on all tablet systems for tablet-water ratios and dissolving times.

One other bit of advice - wash your hands before you eat. Keep in mind that you must use "safe" water to wash not only your hands but also any food you are preparing.


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