Tips for Eating Safely on an International Trip

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I recently got back from an epic adventure: two weeks backpacking through India. This was my first time traveling in a country so different from my home, the United States. All of the advice in the world couldn’t have prepared me for what was ahead. I just knew I needed an open mind, patience, and to not drink the tap water.

India is a very diverse country, and the same goes for the food. Much of the cuisine is influenced by religion, culture and regional differences. My brother and I traveled in northern India, so I got only a small taste of what India has to offer. Luckily, the rules for eating abroad are pretty universal. Here are some tips I’d offer to anyone wanting to avoid the dreaded “Delhi Belly.”

Stick to hot and dry/packaged foods

When food is cooked at high temperatures, microorganisms (mainly bacteria) that can cause traveler’s diarrhea are often killed. Consume foods that are served steaming and avoid food that has been sitting out at room temperatures, such as buffets. Also, dry (such as bread) and packaged foods (such as cookies) are generally safe to consume.

Travel with someone familiar with the country’s cuisine

A common issue with visiting a new country is being unfamiliar with the cuisine. How do you know what to order if all of the names of the food are unfamiliar? You might be getting yourself a meal you won’t like, or worse, one that might not agree with your stomach. I was lucky enough to travel with my brother, who had been living in India for the past two years. He was familiar with the food and could make recommendations that we both would like and keep us safe.

Pack some snacks that remind you of home

When traveling abroad, there might be times when you just can’t stomach the local fare. While I was in India, we traveled through some high altitudes, up to 18,000 feet. At such heights, your body might exhibit a sensitivity to the altitude in the form of headaches and nausea. It was at these points I was so grateful to have trail mix and a couple of granola bars on hand. That’s about all my stomach could handle at the time.

Load up on tea, coffee and bottled/canned beverages

Luckily, coffee and tea are abundant in India—and when you get served a piping hot glass, it is a safe bet. Letting the beverage cool off a bit first won’t make it unsafe to drink.

Bottled and canned drinks are also generally safe to consume. Just make sure that the seal wasn’t broken and haphazardly resealed for reselling. Some restaurants put pitchers of water on the table for drinking. Even if you are thirsty, just avoid the tap water. Like my brother always said, “It’s not worth the risk.”

Avoid: raw food and street food

Raw foods are risky. The Center for Disease Control suggests avoiding raw meat and seafood and warns travelers to only consume raw fruits and vegetables if you can confirm they were washed with disinfected water. Street food might be cheap and tempting to try, but just avoid the street food. It is impossible to know what, if any, hygiene standards these vendors are held too. If you must try it, make sure the food comes straight off the grill.

Eat at restaurants recommended on travel sites

Thanks to the Internet, it is really easy to find recommendations on where to eat practically anywhere in the world. Travel sites can point you in the right direction in finding a safe place to eat.  But remember, still use common sense and good judgment before you eat your meal.

When it comes right down to it, avoiding foodborne illness abroad is all about the luck of the draw. But by following these simple tips, you can indulge in new foods with a little more peace of mind.

Happy exploring!

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