When you’re on vacation we’re sure you love to try out the local cuisine, but often just have time to grab a quick bite to eat from a corner shop or street vendor. But there’s always that niggling feeling that you might get horribly sick from food poisoning, and potentially destroy your holiday.

Cover Image: Nick Nguyen, Flickr

Follow these steps to keep out of harm’s way when eating out in a foreign country, or food poisoning might be the order of the day.

Plockmat
Image Credit: Skånska Matupplevelser, Flickr

1. Hot and Cold

Food that is meant to be served hot should not be allowed to rest at moderate temperatures for extended periods. If it’s meant to be cold then it should be kept cold! Lukewarm is not a satisfactory compromise for freshly prepared food, since bacteria multiply fastest around room temperature. So, for instance, if you see a shop which keeps its pies behind the counter and not in the fridge or hot serving area, then avoid them at all costs.

2. Restaurant Hygiene

Take a look around the restaurant while you order drinks, and before you decide to stay for a meal. Does it look clean to you, or are there washcloths and chopping boards being used interchangeably all over the place?

Can you see into the kitchen? Almost all good restaurants allow diners to view the kitchen, which promotes hygiene on the part of the kitchen staff, and allows diners to view the condition of the kitchen.

Avoid salads at buffets that do not place cold items on ice, or change the dishes out frequently. Items that involve a lot of hand contact in their preparation (eg sandwiches) are common carriers of the bacteria. Tap water and some poorly bottled water should be avoided when travelling in developing countries..

Hand washing should be strictly enforced for all members of staff in a restaurant. It should go without saying to all staff in the food industry, but many restaurant’s rest rooms will carry a sign saying that all staff must wash hands before leaving the rest rooms.

Street Vendors Bangkok
Image Credit: Mikhail Koninin, Flickr

3. Street Food

Street vendors are a likely source of food poisoning, since many do not have access to running water nearby, they handle money in between handling food, and they may not have cold storage for raw ingredients. This all adds up to an increased likelihood that you may ingest harmful bacteria. Perhaps unfortunately, some of the best food can be found on street corners, and you may not be able to resist the temptation. Just be sure to pick a more reputable-looking vendor!

4. Store Hygiene

Buying from a corner store requires a bit more care than buying from a large supermarket, but both can contain products that should be looked at with suspicion.

Does the shop have cold storage which is cold enough to keep meat and dairy from spoiling? Are there any expired items still on the shelves? These can be indicators to stay away from fresh foods.

If there was recently a power outage, did the store have a backup generator to keep the refrigerators running? Is the pie counter sufficiently hot to keep the pies at a safe temperature?

5. Go Easy on the Eggs

The contraction of salmonella poisoning can sometimes occur through consumption of undercooked eggs. It is possible to cook an over-easy egg which has reached a safe internal temperature, but frequently chefs and cooks do not have the time needed to cook an egg slowly enough to get the yolk to a safe temperature while retaining its runny consistency. Many restaurants will show a disclaimer on their menu, warning diners that they eat at their own risk when ordering runny eggs.

6. Water

Some travelers are sensitive to perfectly safe drinking water while travelling, simply due to the change in mineral composition. If you have experienced feelings of nausea for apparently no reason, it may be the water. Although you will get used to it, on a short trip you may want to opt for a trusted brand of bottled water in order to avoid any inconvenience.

7. Alcohol with a Meal

Drinking an alcoholic beverage with your meal, and then another afterwards (such as a digestif) may very well help you stave off a bout of food poisoning, according to research conducted on cruise ship passengers.

Some Common Bacteria

Salmonella
Salmonella is easy to avoid: as long as food is cooked to a safe temperature all Salmonella bacteria will die. Unfortunately, Salmonella is still common, and can present one of the worst forms of food poisoning along with E. Coli.

Shigella
Other types of food-borne bacteria are not so easy to avoid, such as Shigella, which is transmitted to food by humans through poor handling and hygiene. Always wash fresh fruit and vegetables before use, and do not order raw dishes from untrusted sources.

Simply being aware of the food hygiene conditions around you can mean the difference between a great holiday and terrible one.