Food and water safety is more important while traveling then what most people think. Having an upset stomach due to food poisoning or dirty water is one of the biggest inconveniences that a traveler can face face. A small minority of tourists is blessed with iron stomach and immune system better than president’s body guards. But for rest of us mortals, not getting sick takes a priority whenever we step outside our homes for any period of time.
This issue of food and water safety particular importance for people who are traveling to foreign countries. Different places have different notions of hygiene, cleanliness and even different pests and germs. For example, malaria is almost completely eradicated in western world, but it still claims thousands of lives in many other countries. Although, I’d love to write about in detail, time and space constraints dictate that I limit this article to advice related to food and water safety only. Although, this article is written with India in mind, these are some general instructions which hold true almost everywhere. So let’s begin with
1) Water safety for tourists
Contaminated water is probably the biggest source of infections worldwide. A number of potentially fatal infectious disease can be prevented by observing simple water safety rules . Fortunately it’s a pretty easy thing almost everywhere. One of the most obvious solutions is to use branded bottled water. It’s pretty much available almost everywhere and not very expensive It is expensive if you consider that it’s just plain water, but considering the alternative, it’s good enough. Even in this case, make sure that you buy only the original brands and bottles which are properly sealed. If in doubt, leave it and buy it from some place else.
Now what if you are in a place with no bottled water ?. Well, unless you are near a river source with clear fast moving water, glacier etc. you have very few options except boiling before drinking. You can use water purifying tablets or drops. But a lot of people don’t like the occasional change in taste of water because of such filtration.
Another option is using portable filters. There is one portable filter as big as a pen and is used as one would use a straw. Additionally, there some bottles come with water filter already fitted in. But most practical ones are usually too big to lug around comfortably. If you are not carrying your own water filter, then best option to quench thirst are bottled water, juice or soft drinks, in that order.
2) Food Safety for tourists
Basic precautions related to food safety and hygiene can save you a lot of grief. Generally, high end restaurants, hotels are considered cleaner than road-side street food vendors. But there can be major exceptions. One example is freshness of ingredients. Most of street food vendors prepare their dishes earlier in day or during the work hours and serve them as fresh as possible. Restaurants on the other hand usually prepare large quantities of their most common foods or ingredients and store them in refrigerators to be heated up just before serving.
Here are some points that you should keep in mind when enjoying street food in India or almost anywhere else:
a) Consume food from a trusted and recommended source
Many street food businesses have a good reputation for solid reasons including food safety. Take advice from your local friends, guides. But make sure that they have no commercial stake in recommending you to somewhere. Observing the clientele is also a good practice. A good vendor will usually have lots of customers compared to a non-trusted one
b) Make sure that the utensils used are clean.
Most street food vendors use disposable plate, spoons etc. In some cases it significantly enhances food safety. But if they aren’t, ensure the cleanliness first. Use your own wipes on plates if not sure.
c) Don’t eat exposed food
Avoid eating at any place where the food is not covered and exposed to dust and flies. This thing is quite simple but enhances your food safety factor by a long margin.
d) Eat fresh food
Some times, the food is prepared right in front of you out of semi-prepared ingredients. Not every vendor brings 100 % ready to eat food with him. So, if you see food cooking, it’s a good sign that it’ll be fresh. A good vendor will usually listen to your requests and prepare the food exactly to your requirement. But if there are other people waiting, don’t count on it.
e) Be prepared
Precautions related to food are the one which are most confusing. People may follow all the hygiene related precautions, but may still send up with an upset stomach due to some previously unknown food intolerance or allergy. It’s really difficult to avoid such incidents. If you know about your intolerance and allergies, ask the vendor before eating anything. If not, try only small portion to check whether you are okay with it. If you like them and have no side-effects, go on to enjoy it in full. Also, keep a basic first aid kit consisting of a few medicines for an upset stomach, antacid, antihistamines etc.
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