Home TRAVEL TIPS Tricks & Hacks How to Avoid Food Poisoning When You Travel Abroad

How to Avoid Food Poisoning When You Travel Abroad

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In the United States alone, around 48 million people get sick each year because of foodborne illnesses. Around 128,000 of these individuals have to be hospitalized as a result. An estimated 3,000 people die.

You’re most at risk for foodborne illness if you’re pregnant, an older adult, or you have a weakened immune system for any reason. Older adults are also at a higher risk than the general population.

There are hundreds of types of foodborne illnesses, and some of the most common include E. coli, norovirus, and salmonella. Campylobacter, hepatitis A and listeria are also relatively common illnesses from foods.

When you’re traveling abroad, you may be at an even greater risk of getting sick from food or water. The following are some ways to reduce or manage this risk.

Talk to a Doctor Before You Go

If you’re going to a foreign country, and particularly one known for food or water-borne illnesses, then you should talk to a doctor familiar with travel medicine before leaving.

When you do that, they can tell which medicines you might want to take a stash of with you to your destination, in case you do experience any gastrointestinal symptoms.

Even if you have an idea of what you should take, whether or not you actually find it in the pharmacy when you arrive at your destination can be a guessing game.

If you have a few things with you that are recommended by your doctor, you can combat some of the symptoms that may occur if you eat something that doesn’t agree with you or that makes you sick.

Don’t Have Raw Fruits and Vegetables

When you’re abroad, the fewer raw things you eat, the better in terms of reducing your risk of getting sick.

You should only eat raw fruits and vegetables if you personally washed and peeled them in a source of clean water.

In a lot of places around the world, you’ll see fresh juice and fruit stands, and as appealing as they might look, you’d be taking a big risk to indulge.

You also have to consider that if raw fruits and vegetables have been washed, it could be in water that you wouldn’t drink.

Avoiding raw and unwashed produce isn’t just something you do in foreign countries. Things like bagged salad and spinach are often among the food items that most often make people sick each year.

Be Careful About Water

Speaking of water, you might realize that you shouldn’t have a glass of tap water when you’re traveling abroad, but what about those other sneaky sources of water?

For example, what about water in ice or damp lettuce in a salad?

You might even be exposed to pathogens on your hands after you’ve just washed them.

All of these are things that could be exposing you to microbes.

A lot of times, you’ll see locals who are drinking the water, and you might wonder why they don’t have to be as careful, but the key fact is that any of these pathogens would be new to your system, thus the illness they could create.

Along with choosing bottled water, you might also take your own water filter bottle or water sanitizer tablets, just in case.

When you’re showering, you also have to be mindful of the water you’re accidentally drinking.

For example, if you can’t drink the water wherever you are, try not to get it in your eyes or mouth either.

Give Your Immune System a Boost

Before your trip, along with visiting a doctor who knows travel medicine, there are some things you can do on your own to strengthen your GI system and your immune system.

For example, start taking a probiotic a few weeks before your trip.

Choose Popular Restaurants

When you’re choosing places to eat, look for restaurants that are very popular and seem to have a lot of locals eating there especially.

When a restaurant or café is popular, then it means that they’re turning over more food, and that increases the likelihood that you’re going to get something fresh.

As far as restaurants with a lot of locals, you have to think about the fact that touristy restaurants might not care as much about quality or reputation because they don’t have to hang onto long-term customers the way a restaurant catering to locals does.

With that in mind, again, much like fruit and vegetable stands, street food might seem like a good way to get a feel for local flavor when you’re traveling, but it can be risky. If you are going to have street food, only eat cooked, hot options and not anything cold, raw, or that’s been sitting for a while.

What to Do If You Get Food Poisoning

There’s always a chance that even if you follow everything listed above, you could still get food poisoning.

If you find yourself in this situation, first, drink a lot of water. This can help replace the fluids you’re losing.

Along with plain water, it’s good to try and get things with electrolytes to restore fluid balance, like Gatorade or coconut water. You can make your own rehydration solution by boiling water and adding a few teaspoons of sugar along with a bit of salt to the pot.

Your GI tract will have a hard time with food digestion when you have food poisoning, but once your symptoms start to subside, ease into plain, low-fat, and low-fiber items at first, like baked potatoes or toast.

Begin eating small amounts often, rather than trying to eat too much at one time.

Finally, know when it could be time to get medical attention. For example, if you notice blood in your stool or vomit, then that is a medical emergency. If your diarrhea won’t seem to let up, or you feel dehydrated, again, you should go to a clinic or hospital.

No one ever wants to be sick when they’re traveling, but it does happen. There are steps you can take to avoid it, some of which you can start before you leave for your trip.


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