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Is the Food Safe to Eat

Food safety while traveling

Note that this article is part of a series called, Tips for Travelers. View the main article to find more information on food and safety while traveling.

Spring break is a great time to travel to an exotic location and soak up the sun. However, not all countries maintain the same food and water qualities standards as the United States.

In order to stay healthy and make the most of your vacation, West Virginia University Extension Service Food Safety Specialist Litha Sivanandan has a few important tips for travelers.

Regardless of where you’re eating, the first step to food safety is same – clean your hands.

“Thousands of bacteria live and breed on your hands,” said Sivanandan. “Travelers should wash their hands or use alcohol-based hand cleaners after touching any questionable objects or surfaces, especially before eating.”

To determine the effectiveness of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, look for a product with an alcohol content of at least 60 percent.

Second, keep in mind that raw or undercooked foods are subject to contamination.

“Food on vacation always looks so appealing,” Sivanandan said. “It’s hard to resist grabbing fresh produce and taking a bite.”

Avoid eating uncooked foods like fruits, salads, vegetables, and unpasteurized milk and milk products, such as cheese, Sivanandan advised.

Only consume fruits and vegetables that are washed in clean water and then peeled by the traveler.

When eating hot meals you should only ingest food that has been fully cooked and is still hot. Cooked food that has been allowed to stand for several hours should be thoroughly reheated before serving.

“Street vendors’ foods are very attractive and convenient,” Sivanandan said. “However, keeping the cooking areas clean and the temperatures regulated is difficult for many vendors. Consuming foods purchased from street vendors has been associated with an increased risk of illness in many instances.”

To ensure safe food options, Sivanandan recommends carrying the following types items when traveling:

  • Sealed bottled water or other sealed beverages, including commercially prepared cans/bottles of carbonated drinks and pasteurized fruit drinks
  • Reconstituting powders, dried powders made from fruits or vegetables, that can be mixed with bottled water to add essential vitamins and nutrients
  • Oral Rehydration Salt, used to prevent dehydration
  • Dried fruits or nuts
  • Fruit, vegetable or multigrain chips

Travelers should be advised to not bring perishable seafood from high-risk areas upon their return to the United States. Such incidents have resulted in cholera infection. To determine what items you are able to take overseas and bring back, visit the U.S. Department of State’s website.

Additionally, travelers should not assume that food and water aboard commercial aircraft are safe, since food and water is sometimes obtained in the country of departure, where items risk contamination.