Don’t Let Food Poisoning Ruin Your Vacation
BY: Stacey Colino
The worst case of food poisoning I ever had struck while my husband and I were in Palm Springs. Thanks to a questionable salad or tainted seafood, I was running for the bathroom at least once an hour from morning till night. I couldn’t even keep water down. The trip eventually came to be known as our yuckiest vacation ever. Adding insult to misery, vomiting and diarrhea can be especially problematic if you have heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or an otherwise touchy digestive tract; after all, vomiting will irritate an already sensitive esophagus and diarrhea can trigger a bad bout of IBS.
That’s why it’s smart to go the extra mile when it comes to avoiding food poisoning while traveling. To get the inside scoop on how to do that, I consulted registered dietitian Keith Ayoob, an associate professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and author of The Uncle Sam Diet. His advice:
• Be wary of water. If there’s any question about the safety of the tap water, stick with bottled, even for brushing your teeth.
• Refrain from raw. When it comes to eating fruits and vegetables on vacation, “cooked trumps raw,” Ayoob says, “though fruits and veggies with peels, like bananas and oranges, should be OK. I like to wash the outside anyway because you never know who handled the stuff. The same goes for melons.”
• Be careful about food storage. “It's not just the food itself, it's how it was prepared and kept until you eat it,” Ayoob says. “If the hotel or a tour packs you a box lunch, find out when it was prepared. Keeping sandwiches and salads [unrefrigerated] for more than an hour or two can result in bacteria growth and some serious foodborne illness.”
• Exercise caution with street vendors. In the U.S., don’t buy food from street vendors unless you can see a health certificate and the food is cooked and kept hot or properly refrigerated, Ayoob advises. “Raw food from street vendors is out,” he adds. Since buying from street vendors in foreign countries “is a real roll of the dice,” he recommends avoiding the practice altogether.
• Steer clear of known-to-be-risky foods. Sure, you may enjoy steak tartare when you’re at home, but why risk it while traveling? After all, “one false move and you can really upset your whole vacation,” says Ayoob. “Never mind local customs and methods of eating -- no raw meat, fish or eggs on vacation.” Use good sense and skip anything that looks like it could be problematic, such as raw fish or unpasteurized dairy products.
• Get recommendations. Ask for restaurant or food-shopping recommendations from trustworthy sources like friends, family members or the hotel concierge.
Food poisoning is never fun, but it’s especially miserable if it strikes while you’re traveling. So “be careful about being adventurous when eating on vacation,” Ayoob advises. Instead of daring food, go for exotic sights and thrilling activities. That way you -- and your digestive system -- will have a great trip.
Stacey Colino has written for The Washington Post's health section and many national magazines, including Newsweek, Woman's Day, SELF, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Parenting, Sports Illustrated and Ladies' Home Journal. Stacey is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.