Whether you’re at home or on the road, it’s important to take care of your health. Since traveling can bring you into contact with many things that your body isn’t used to, it’s easier to get sick. More than 10 million overseas travelers fall ill with diarrhea and other sicknesses each year from drinking water and food, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
NSF International, a nonprofit organization that writes food health and safety standards and certifies products and practices against those standards, offers these tips on safe eating while traveling:
• Be aware of who is handling the food. Avoid establishments where the food handlers don’t practice good hygiene such as tying back their hair, wearing protective gloves and having clean hands and fingernails. If you see food servers touching their face, smoking, chewing gum, or sneezing or coughing near food, avoid purchasing food from that vendor.
• Look for crowds. When surveying the street food scene in any location, look for crowds — locals get sick, too, and won’t return to stalls suspected of serving unsafe food. If there’s a crowd, it’s usually a safer choice to make.
• Be selective when choosing foods. Since raw food is subject to contamination, travelers should try to avoid salads, uncooked vegetables and unpasteurized juices and milk products. Dry foods such as cakes, cookies, and bread are safer options.
• Spice things up. Become familiar with spices, such as chilies and turmeric, that are known to have anti-bacterial properties and seek out dishes that include them. Acidic fruits, such as citrus fruits and pineapple, are also safer bets when traveling.
• Boil tap water before drinking. If you need to use tap water from an unknown source, be sure to boil it for several minutes first at a good rolling boil. Also, avoid consuming beverages that may be mixed with the local tap water supply, such as juices or sodas from sources such as fountain machines or beverages containing ice, since freezing does not kill most microorganisms. Beverages made with boiled water and served steaming hot (such as tea and coffee) are generally safe to drink.
Not all bottled water is safe. Bottled water products in other countries can be impure or refilled from a local tap source, so always check the seal to ensure it is intact.
• Avoid foods that require a lot of handling before serving or that contain raw or undercooked meat or seafood. In most cases, foods that are boiled should be safe to consume.
• Wash vegetables and fruit before eating. If you purchase fresh produce from a roadside stand be sure to wash and peel them before eating. Bacteria can be present on the exterior and even when sliced can be carried into the edible section. If you’re traveling in an area with unsafe water, be sure to wash the produce with bottled or filtered water.
• Eat hot foods hot, and cold foods cold. If the dish you ordered is supposed to be served hot, make sure it is hot when it is served to you. The same is true for any foods that are intended to be served cold. Otherwise, it may not be safe to eat.
• Remember the one-hour rule. Don’t consume any perishable foods that have been sitting out beyond one hour when the temperature is higher than 90 degrees.
• Wash hands before eating or handling food. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before eating or handling food. If fresh water is scarce, use antibacterial hand gels or wipes to help keep your hands clean, especially after using a restroom and before eating.
• Sanitize “high touch” areas. Germs linger longer on nonporous materials like plastic. When traveling via plane, train or bus, wipe down common surface areas such as tray tables, seat armrests, lavatory door handles with an alcohol-based wipe or gel before you use them. If you’re staying at a hotel, do the same for the TV remote controls, bathroom door handles and telephone.