A great holiday – without the bugs!

You’ve been planning it for ages. You’ve got the money together, the tickets are booked and once you find your favourite T-shirt, your packing will be finished. It’s going to be great and nothing is going to stop you enjoying yourself. But whether you fancy yourself as a bit of a gourmet expert or you’re more the burgers and chips type, it’s a good idea to get familiar with some basic food safety tips.

Nobody wants to be laid up with food poisoning when they could be exploring and having fun. But it happens to hundreds of holiday makers each year. A mild case of food poisoning can have you stuck in your apartment for a couple of days but a more serious attack can require medical assistance. Getting food poisoning abroad in a different environment with different languages and health care standards, has its own difficulties. However, by applying some basic common sense guidelines, you can minimise the risk of falling ill and feel safer in exploring the culinary delights, or those burgers, of the cultures you visit.

Tips for safe eating out abroad

When looking for places to eat, it’s a good idea to get recommendations from locals, tourist information, other travellers and guidebooks. Of course, finding hidden eateries off the beaten track or being a bit adventurous can be good fun. Wherever you decide to eat, take note of the following tips to avoid the risk of food poisoning abroad.

Hygiene and management

  • Does the restaurant look well managed, are tables and surfaces clean and uncluttered?
  • Are the utensils, cutlery, crockery and glasses clean?
  • Are the waiting staff well presented, with clean hands, long hair tied back, and clean clothes?
  • Are the sinks and toilets clean and well maintained? Are hand towels freshly laundered?
  • Are other people dining in the restaurant?

Displayed food

  • To avoid the risk of cross contamination, raw and ready-to-eat foods should never be displayed next to each other and separate utensils should be used for both 
  • If you can see food being prepared, is it being done in a hygienic manner? 
  • Avoid any food which looks as if it has been lying around or not 100% fresh 
  • Containers of displayed food should not be topped up with new batches of food 
  • All displayed food should be covered

Your meal

  • Hot food should be served hot and cold food should be served cold. If the temperature isn’t right, send it back 
  • If part of your meal is undercooked, send it back. Ask for a fresh serving of everything to ensure that the other food has not been contaminated by the juices of the undercooked food
  • Meat should be cooked until there is no pink meat left, it's piping hot all the way through and the juices run clear
  • In countries where it isn’t advisable to drink local water, raw vegetables and salads washed in local water should be avoided
  • If you find a “foreign body”, e.g. a hair in your food, send it back
  • Is the food fresh and prepared to order? If it looks as if it’s been hanging around waiting for you, don’t eat it
  • If you have any suspicion that due care and attention wasn’t given to the preparation of your food, complain. Be polite but firm.

Self catering when abroad

If you’re in an apartment complex or on a budget, you might be doing your own cooking. Here are a few tips to keep you safe.

  • When buying vegetables from markets, look for freshness 
  • Make sure that the meat is chilled and covered. Try and buy from busy sources to avoid meat which isn’t fresh
  • Only buy products which you can store safely. Don’t buy dairy products if you’re in a hot country and you don’t have access to refrigeration to keep them chilled 
  • Remember to wash vegetables and fruit in bottled water in places where the local water isn’t safe to drink
  • Make sure that utensils are thoroughly cleaned before you use them
  • Apply the basic rules of food preparation as you would at home

Before you travel, you should become familiar with the symptoms of food poisoning. Avoiding food poisoning abroad is a matter of common sense and knowing what to look out for. Keep your eyes open and be sensible about what and where you eat and, above all, have fun!