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How to prevent food poisoning when travelling

4 minute read
Man and Woman eating exotic street food outdoors

One of the best parts about travelling the world is getting to taste different cuisines. Curries in India. Enchiladas in Mexico. Pad Thai in Thailand. But, as enticing as these dishes might sound, even the most well-seasoned stomachs can fall victim to foreign foods.

That doesn’t mean you have to stick to peanut butter on toast for every meal the next time you trek overseas, but it does mean it’s a good idea to be a little bit cautious about what and where you eat.

To give yourself the best chance of avoiding food poisoning, stick to the following rules.

1. Wash your hands (really well) before you eat

Your hands can carry a lot of germs, so wash them frequently with soap, especially before eating. A quick rinse isn’t going to do the trick, so make sure you lather the soap and rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds (or roughly as long as it takes you to sing ‘happy birthday’ in your head). It’s a good idea to carry hand sanitizer or a packet of antibacterial wet wipes with you in case there isn’t soap available.

2. Drink bottled water

Depending on the country you’re in, you might not be able to drink H20 straight from the tap. Contaminated water is a common source of illness, so if you’re unsure if you’re able to drink – it’s best not to risk it. If you don’t have access to clean drinking water, but you do have a kettle or stovetop, one minute of boiling should adequately disinfect most water. To play it safe, keep it boiling for at least three minutes.

3. Eat food that’s piping hot

If you’re travelling through a country known for its delicious street food, don’t be afraid to give it a try; just make sure it’s cooked in front of you and served steaming hot. Higher temperatures ensure harmful germs that cause digestive issues are killed off, while cool temperatures only promote growth. So, while that dinner buffet might look mighty tempting, dishes that have been left sitting out for hours on end should be avoided at all costs.

Woman shopping at street fruit market

4. Dine where it’s busy

Whether it’s your home city or a tiny overseas town, the fundamentals of a good restaurant apply: pick a packed place. A restaurant filled with people indicates a higher turnover of food, meaning it’s likely fresher and hasn’t been sitting in a bain-marie from dawn till dusk. You can also be pretty confident the food there is good.

5. Pick your fruit and veggies wisely

You might think loading up on healthy foods is one of the best things you can do for your gut health, but fruit and veggies are a common source of food poisoning, especially when consumed raw. Leafy greens, vegetables and fruit can carry harmful bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria, due to being grown in contaminated soil from unclean water.

According to Jodi Ettenberg, author of ‘The Food Traveller’s Handbook: How to Eat Cheap, Safe and Delicious Food Anywhere in the World’, you should steer clear of anything raw that grows at ground level and is hard to clean.

“If you’re in a country with a lot of pollution, stick to things like bananas, lychees, mangoes, rambutan, and other local tropical fruits — they’re all incredibly delicious and have an outer skin to peel away,” Jodi explains.

What to eat and drink when you have food poisoning

If you get struck down with food poisoning, the last thing you’ll want to do is eat. But, to help aid your recovery, it’s best to stick to basics like plain crackers, rice, bread and bananas. These foods are bland in taste, high in starch, easy to digest and unlikely to send you running to the nearest bathroom.

It’s also best to avoid fried, spicy or high-fibre foods, and anything overly sweet – as these can all upset your digestive tract further and make your symptoms worse.

To try to avoid dehydration, make sure you consume plenty of clear fluids like water, juice and sports beverages. Give coffee, tea, milk or fizzy sodas a break until your stomach has recovered.

When to go to hospital

If you’re unwell for more than two days, or if you’re experiencing symptoms of dehydration, it’s best to see a doctor. With an nib travel insurance policy, our 24/7 Emergency Assistance team can offer a helping hand and point you in the direction of a reputable health provider nearby to make sure you get the best treatment.

Plus you may have cover for overseas emergency medical costs, reasonable and medically necessary additional trip expenses or cancellation costs if you’re no longer able to continue on the rest of your trip as planned.1 Whether you’re heading to Belgium, Bolivia or Burma, it’s important to stay protected. It takes just a few minutes to get a travel quote and if you’re an nib member, you receive a 10% discount!2

1Coverage is subject to the terms, conditions, limitations and exclusions for each policy, as contained in the Product Disclosure Statement.

210% discount applies to the nib Travel Insurance premium (including GST and stamp duty) for nib members that currently hold a health insurance product. The discount offer is correct at time of publication.

nib Travel Insurance Distribution Pty Limited, ABN 40 129 262 175, AR 336467 (nib) is an authorised representative of Cerberus Special Risks Pty Ltd, ABN 81 115 932 173, AFSL 308461 (CSR) and is authorised by CSR to distribute and issue travel insurance policies. This is general advice and you should consider if this product suits your needs. Before you buy, please read the Product Disclosure Statement. This insurance is underwritten by certain underwriters at Lloyd’s and arranged by CSR.

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