I’m finally home and well-rested after my week in Guatemala with the Rainforest Alliance. Before I left on my trip, I went to see a travel health physician. He told me what shots were recommended for my trip. He also asked to see my exact itinerary, and based on that, he was able to tell me what specific health dangers were connected to specific areas of the country. It was very helpful.


Additionally, he gave me advice about eating and drinking the water. He sufficiently raised my fear of TD (traveler’s diarrhea) to make sure I didn’t drink the water, drink anything that had ice in it, or eat any produce that had been rinsed in water. While I was there, I drank only bottled water that I knew had been sealed properly.


When I was checking my emails upon return, I found one from NSF International with tips on safe eating while traveling. NSF is a nonprofit organization that writes food health and safety standards and certifies products and practices against those standards. Based on my recent experience, I thought it would be appropriate to share these tips with you.


Safer eating while traveling

Whether you're at home or on the road, it's important to take care of your health. Since traveling can bring you into contact with many things that your body isn't used to, it's easier to get sick. In fact, more than 10 million overseas travelers fall ill with diarrhea and other sicknesses each year from drinking water and food according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


To help protect you from food poisoning when traveling this summer, practice the following safe-food handling and eating tips:


  1. Be aware of who is handling the food. Avoid establishments where the food handlers don’t practice good hygiene such as tying back their hair, wearing protective gloves and having clean hands and fingernails. If you see food servers touching their face, smoking, chewing gum, or sneezing or coughing near food, avoid purchasing food from that vendor.
  2. Look for crowds. When surveying the street food scene in any location, look for crowds — locals get sick, too, and won’t return to stalls suspected of serving unsafe food, so if there’s a crowd, it’s usually a safer choice to make.
  3. Be selective when choosing foods. Since raw food is subject to contamination, travelers should try to avoid salads, uncooked vegetables and unpasteurized juices and milk products. Dry foods such as cakes, cookies, and bread are safer options.
  4. Spice things up. Become familiar with spices, such as chilies and turmeric, that is known to have anti-bacterial properties and seek out dishes that include them. Acidic fruits, such as citrus fruits and pineapple, are also safer bets when traveling.
  5. Boil tap water before consuming. If you need to use tap water from an unknown source, be sure to boil it for several minutes first at a good rolling boil. Also, avoid consuming beverages that may be mixed with the local tap water supply, such as juices or sodas from sources such as fountain machines or beverages containing ice, since freezing does not kill most microorganisms. Beverages made with boiled water and served steaming hot (such as tea and coffee) are generally safe to drink
  6. Not all bottled water is safe. Bottled water products in other countries can be impure or even counterfeit (i.e., refilled from a local tap source), so always check the seal to ensure it is intact.
  7. Avoid over-handled foods. Avoid foods that require a lot of handling before serving or that contain raw or undercooked meat or seafood. In most cases, foods that are boiled should be safe to consume.
  8. Wash vegetables and fruit prior to eating. If you purchase fresh produce from a roadside stand be sure to wash and peel them before eating. Bacteria can be present on their exterior and even when sliced can be carried into the edible section. If you’re traveling in an area with unsafe water, be sure to wash the produce with bottled or filtered water.
  9. Eat hot foods hot, and cold foods cold. If the dish you ordered is supposed to be served hot, make sure it is hot when it is served to you. The same is true for any foods that are intended to be served cold. Otherwise, it may not be safe to eat.
  10. Remember the one-hour rule. Don’t consume any perishable foods that have been sitting out beyond one hour when the temperature is higher than 90° degrees F. 
  11. Wash hands before eating or handling food. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before eating or handling food. If fresh water is scarce, use antibacterial hand gels or wipes to help keep your hands clean, especially after using a restroom and before eating.
  12. Sanitize "high touch" areas. Germs linger longer on nonporous materials like plastic. When traveling via plane, train or bus, wipe down common surface areas such as tray tables, seat armrests, lavatory door handles with an alcohol-based wipe or gel before you use them. If you’re staying at a hotel, do the same for the TV remote controls, bathroom door handles and telephone.

Do you have any additional tips for eating and drinking safely when you’re unsure of the safety of what you’re consuming? 


MNN tease photo: Shutterstock


Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

12 tips for safe eating while traveling
Food safety tips for travelers. NSF International offers some wise advice to travelers who are unsure about the quality of food and drink they'll encounter.