It’s only natural to want to try all of the local cuisines when you’re traveling in foreign countries. However, you want to be careful about the kinds of things you choose to eat when you’re traveling outside of the U.S. It’s important to remember that some countries don’t have the infrastructure to remove harmful bacteria from foods produced in massive quantities. If foods aren’t properly cleaned before being consumed it can make you extremely sick and possibly ruin an otherwise great vacation. While you want to be careful about all the food you consume, there are a few foods in particular that you want to make certain you avoid.
Water and Ice
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that people traveling in underdeveloped countries should be wary of tap water. This isn’t true for all underdeveloped countries, but anytime someone is visiting a country with a questionable water source you want to be diligent about this.
Developed countries are more likely to have systems for water purification and waste management, whereas countries such as Mexico, Cambodia, Nepal, and Ghana may have water than contains bacteria that could lead to diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, Hepatitis A and more. Also, remember to omit ice when ordering drinks from a restaurant or bar because they are made with tap water. Whenever you’re in doubt about water quality try to drink bottled water exclusively.
Raw produce, such as those commonly found in salads, can also be harmful because they may contain bacteria and other microorganisms transmitted through water. They can either be grown using contaminated water or washed with water that isn’t safe. Additionally, foods grown at farms with animals may have been exposed to unhygienic practices. You can eat produce that has to be peeled, such as mangoes, oranges and bananas, but only if you peel it yourself. Never eat these kinds of fruits if they are given to you after being peeled.
While raw produce in general should be avoided, you should specifically avoid tomatoes. In addition to the other concerns about raw vegetables, tomatoes have been known to be high in lectins, which is a family of carbohydrate-binding proteins. They are found in most foods, but can be unusually high in tomatoes and high levels of lectins can be toxic to humans. Lectins have also been linked to rheumatoid arthritis. Unfortunately, finding lectin free tomatoes can be difficult to impossible, but fortunately cooking can remove lectins. It’s okay to eat cooked tomatoes since the heat can remove any harmful bacteria.
Raw Seafood and Shellfish
Eating raw seafood can be problematic even in the U.S., so it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that it’s especially risky to eat in foreign countries. Fresh, raw fish is usually covered in germs that can cause serious health problems. If you have access to fresh shellfish, you can eat it after you steam it for 4 to 9 minutes or boil it for 5 minutes after the shells open. Always make sure you purchase seafood from a reputable source.
Eating unpasteurized milk, cheese or other dairy products can be dangerous in foreign countries. The pasteurizing process eliminated salmonella, E. coli, and listeria to name a few. The Food and Drug Administration estimates that unpasteurized dairy is 150 times more likely to cause a foodborne illness than pasteurized dairy. You will want to be especially careful with milk and soft cheeses, and unfortunately, ice cream.
Although some foodborne illnesses can be easy to treat here in the U.S., it might be hard to get treatment in unfamiliar locations. Not all countries have easy access to hospitals and other medical treatment centers. And although a good deal of food poisoning only lasts 24 hours, that can seem like a very long time while you’re on vacation. It’s always best to be safe than sorry when traveling abroad by avoiding any potentially unsafe foods so you can enjoy every minute of your trip.