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Eating and drinking safely overseas

All too often we can find ourselves caught out with tummy bugs or stomach illnesses like Delhi Belly or Travellers' Diarrhoea when travelling. Most of the time this needs little more than rest and rehydration to treat, but there are also times when consuming the wrong types of food and drink can leave holidaymakers seriously ill.

Taking time to consider where your food and drink has come from can help to avoid any inconvenient illnesses that could scupper your time away.

Here are some top tips for staying safe while eating and drinking overseas.

Where am I most at risk of getting sick?

As long as you’re careful, you can easily travel anywhere in the world without getting sick. However, those travelling to the Middle East, Africa, Central and South America and many parts of Asia are most at risk of developing sickness from food. People who travel within Western Europe, to the USA and to countries such as Australia and New Zealand have a lower risk but are still susceptible should food or drink have not been prepared properly. Those visiting Eastern European countries, Russia, South Africa, and some of the Caribbean islands have an 'intermediate' risk. See the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s health risk map for more information on individual countries.

Safe drinking

Check the health risk map before you travel just to be sure, but you can generally rest assured that water from European Union countries, USA, New Zealand, Australia and Canada offer well treated tap water that is safe to drink. In some drier countries it may taste strange due to this treatment process, but it’s unlikely to make you sick. However, if you’re unsure or don't want to take any risks then it’s best to purchase bottled water.

For countries where treated mains water is unavailable, it's best to stick to bottled water as much as possible. Check the seal is intact before purchasing. If you're unable to pick any up then boil the water yourself or use iodine/chlorine tablets to cleanse any impurities. It's worth carrying a few of these from home in case of emergencies.

Be cautious with ice and salads that may have been rinsed in countries without treated water. However, beverages such as hot tea, coffee, wine, beer, fizzy drinks and fruit juices should be perfectly safe to drink, particularly if you can see them being freshly prepared.

Safe eating

As mentioned above, European countries are rarely the issue here – generally it's long-haul destinations that can pose higher risks to your health. However, it's always worthwhile being as vigilant as possible, wherever you’re travelling.

Ease yourself in to new foods gently to give your digestive system an opportunity to get used to any exotic spices.

Hot, fresh and cooked are the key words to remember when it comes to eating anywhere in the world, whether at home or overseas. So aim to eat freshly prepared dishes and avoid uncooked food, unless you know that the fruit, vegetables or shellfish have been freshly peeled or shelled.

Also, stay cautious with fish and shellfish in certain countries, as well as unpasteurised milk (if in doubt, you can boil milk to keep it safe), cheese and yogurts. This can mean that ice cream from street vendors isn't always as reliable as the ice cream vans back home.

Food from street vendors is an exciting way to taste the local cuisine. However, if you're prone to a sensitive stomach and would rather not take the risk, then stick to restaurant food instead. If you look at reviews online before going, you should be able to create a list of reputable food establishments at your destination. It may be best to eat meat from street food vendors earlier in the day rather than towards the evening, in case it's not properly refrigerated.

If you're eating BBQ prepared food then ensure the meat is cooked through thoroughly before you eat it.

What should I do if I get sick?

If you have a mildly upset stomach, simply rest and drink plenty of fluids - rehydration is incredibly important for recovery. Carry diarrhoea medication and rehydration sachets for emergencies. However, it's worth seeking medical aid (see our list of global emergency service numbers) if you are also suffering from a fever, have blood in your stools or are showing signs of dehydration. If in doubt, seek medical attention straight away - it's always better to be safe than sorry. For more information and details on Travellers' Diarrhoea and its effects, visit the relevant page here.


Date published 01/04/2014

Information correct as of date of publication

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