Food safety tips for traveling overseas

Mar 27, 2008 at 8:45 p.m. ET

As summer approaches and you begin to think about a vacation, what you eat can turn a good-time getaway into a gastrointestinal nightmare. Ensure your pleasure -- and health -- by following this advice on food safety abroad.

Exotic Dishes

One of the most anticipated aspects of traveling to a far-off land is eating the native foods. However, your stomach may not always be able to handle new, yet interesting, dishes. Worse, the food may not be as sanitary as you hope. However, do not let that deter you from getting full on your traveling abroad experience.


The innate thing to do when you are uncertain about a cuisine is to not eat anything at all, which is not a good way to travel. You need to keep up your strength and nutrient regime just the same as if you were at home -- if not more -- and not eating will contribute to you feeling sluggish and sick. Be sure to eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, grains and protein and drink lots of water (it may need to be bottled water to be safe).
It's a good idea to bring your own vitamin supplements, just to be certain you are getting your recommended daily intake of nutrients. But do take advantage of the local cuisine at reputable eateries – you shortchange your travels if you don't get to experience the culture's food and drink!


One of the biggest culprits of food-related illnesses comes from non-purified water -- and especially ice. The best way to protect yourself is to stay away from local tap water, even in the hotel if questionable, and drink only bottled water. If bottled water is not an option, boiling tap water will kill most of the contaminants or you can bring along miniature water filtration systems or tablets.

When drinking bottled water, be sure it is in a sealed bottle, do not let the waiter at a restaurant open the bottle before you see it. You should have no problem drinking coffee or tea as long as the water has been boiled.

There are other sources of potential contamination besides drinking water. The ice in a cup of soda, the water you use to brush your teeth as well as the water used to wash fruit or vegetables could be contaminated. If you are in an extremely rural area, use bottled water for ice, brushing your teeth or washing produce, just to be on the safe side.
Tourists drinking bottled water.


If you can cook it, boil it, or peel it, you can eat it – otherwise, forget it.
That old saying pretty much speaks for itself. Try to stay away from raw fruits and vegetables that have not been peeled. Raw foods, like salads are more likely to be infected than freshly cooked or peeled foods. When ordering meat, be sure to order it well-done or at the very least medium-well and only eat it if it is hot.

Also, be conscious of runny eggs and sandwiches with raw vegetables, especially sprouts. Seafood is also very likely to be tainted, even when cooked, because seafood is often cooked at a low temperature, too low to kill off harmful bacteria. Shellfish should be avoided, unless you know where it came from and how long it has been out. Unpasteurized dairy products should generally avoided, including cheese and yogurt, be aware of milk in your coffee and tea as well. Stick with pasteurized dairy products.


When eating out abroad, try not to eat food from street vendors, unless it looks thoroughly cooked and it is hot. When choosing a restaurant, go where there are lots of people. A dead restaurant is usually a sign of bad food or an unsafe setting.

Another simple strategy is to check your surroundings. If a restaurant is dirty on the outside, there is a good chance the kitchen will be as dirty. Don't think American food means safe. Eating "American" food such as McDonalds or restaurants that serve American style food may seem like the safe option, but that is not always the case. The meat and products can still be tainted and harmful.


Don't let the potential dangers of eating out while you are abroad keep you from exploring the locale and indulging in a once in a lifetime trip. Just be aware of the potential risks and take necessary precautions. It is much better to be safe than sorry.

Most definitely do your research before leaving on your trip by visiting the World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control and Prevention to track food outbreaks as well as talk to your travel agent for more information.

Want to know more? Check out these links!