May 14, 2020
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If we had a gadget that could ensure we ate only tummy-friendly food abroad, we'd package it and be millionaires! Montezuma's Revenge is a term often associated from an upset stomach due to ingestion of contaminated food abroad, and it is quite common. While it can happen to anyone, there are some things you can keep in mind when travelling to stay as safe as you can:
It is always best to carry around a note on your phone with the local translation for your dietary preferences, such as:
" Is this spicy?"
"Vegetarian, please" or "No meat, please"
" I am allergic to these ingredients: ________, _________, _______. Is this dish safe for me to eat?"
While you may not be fully "allergic", this term is sometimes the closest word you can use to describe foods that you are sensitive to, or downright don't eat. For instance, some places don't recognize gluten or lactose-intolerance; saying you are allergic to milk/cheese/wheat can be helpful here. It is also useful to make a list of ingredients you don't like, so you can avoid them on the menu. Avoiding ordering food that won't agree with your tummy or tastebuds the best way to control your food destiny!
Side note: I had $5 to my name because the ATM was broken in the small town in Peru I was staying in, and I literally translated: THE ATM IS BROKEN, I HAVE $5, WHAT CAN I EAT? It works!
When travelling, tourists - especially from North America - tend to order familiar sounding foods like pizza and hamburgers to be "safe". These dishes are sometimes made with ingredients shipped from overseas and not used in everyday cooking (which means they can sometimes expire due to lack of use or sufficient refrigeration). I have mostly gotten sick from eating "American" food abroad!
Local dishes are usually made is ingredients sourced from local farms and vendors, ensuring freshness and a history of knowledge when it comes to preparation and preservation. This means that eating local dishes is also helping to ecological footprint while travelling (bonus!).
Not only is it the safer way to go, but it can be more fun too! Trying new flavours is the best part of travelling for me, and each area usually has its own specialty to taste.
Refrigeration standards vary from country to country. In many developing countries, access to energy for cooling might be limited. For this reason, I'd recommend only eating seafood in coastal areas. This is because the fish doesn't have to travel overland to get to you, and risk contamination from heat or unhygienic packing.
Usually, fish dishes served in coastal areas are caught that morning, ensuring freshness! If you are still unsure, ordering the "catch of the day" is also a good method.
Before travelling, it is advisable to look up advisories on the drinkability of tap water in the place you are visiting; if the water isn't drinkable, its likely that you wouldn't want ice floating in your drink, either.
Purified water and ice are usually very accessible these days - usually in high-traffic tourist areas. It is helpful to ask the restaurant if they use purified water for their beverages, so add this translated question to your notes too. Alcoholic beverages, popsicles and smoothies are typically secret culprits that have secret ice in them, so don't forget about these! When in doubt, stick to canned drinks and bottled water.
Related to the note above, sometimes vegetables for your dishes are washed in tap water. If you are in an area where drinking water is not safe, avoiding salads and sticking to cooked vegetables is a great way to keep your tummy happy.
Ok, FOR REAL, eating street food is one of the most amazing parts of travelling, but it can take a toll on your tummy. One of the most common cases of food poisoning from street food is lack of ingredient refrigeration, raw vegetables washed with tap water, and food fried in oil that has been used many times. While there is no real way to tell what you are in for, asking a local for recommendations on the spots to hit up will help you make the right decision. Vendors with long line ups prove that their selection is tried, tested, true and fresh.
Pro tip: travel with your own mini cutlery set to ensure that the utensils are eating with are also properly sanitized. It also helps the environment to reject plastic straws and utensils!
Unfortunately - much like home - there is no way to do this without a little awkwardness. A simple way of doing this is saying, "i'd like to order something else instead, please." (this would be a useful line to translate, too!). You should always be prepared to pay for a meal that you sent back, plus the alternative meal. Then, it is on the management of that establishment to determine what you are charged for.
In conclusion, with the growth of global tourism, standards for hygiene, refrigeration and sanitization are also improving everywhere. You may also keep in mind that an upset stomach from eating doesn't always mean that its food poisoning or that the source was "bad"; stomach aches, constipation and/or diarrhea are sometimes reactions to food you aren't used to, and adjusting to new ingredients. If you find yourself sick, check out this great resource for steps to take. We strongly recommend talking to a doctor for any moderate - severe cases of sickness post eating. Always carry around water to stay hydrated.
- Britt, Founder
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