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Wilburn: Keep food safety in mind when you travel
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Who doesn’t enjoy a great vacation? Unfortunately, millions might not. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 percent to 50 percent of international travelers suffer from traveler’s diarrhea, often during the first few days of a trip.

This is a generally self-limiting disease caused by Enteropathogenic i. Additionally, many travelers may be affected by other foodborne diseases such as norovirus, infectious hepatitis, typhoid fever, cholera and giardiasis, which may have more serious consequences and longer duration.

Symptoms of foodborne illness may include vomiting, diarrhea, headache, malaise, fatigue and dehydration. Foodborne illnesses occur most often when bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemicals contaminate food or water. Where and what we choose to eat and drink may be the most important decisions we make while on vacation.

Commonly implicated foods include:

  • Foods from animal origin (poultry, meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy items)
  • Foods grown near the soil (vegetables and spices)
  • Foods that come into contact with contaminated water (seafood and washed fruits/vegetables)

Additionally, contaminated water, as a liquid or solid ice, can be a common vehicle for disease.

Anyone can become sick from eating contaminated food, but certain people are more vulnerable and these individuals should pay extra attention to food choices while abroad. Individuals at higher risk include infants, pregnant women, the elderly and people who have a compromised immune system due to disease or the use of immuno-suppressive medications.

Fortunately there are several precautions travelers can follow to reduce their risk of contracting a foodborne illness:

  • According to the CDC, travelers should avoid salads, uncooked vegetables and unpasteurized milk or milk products and only eat foods that have been cooked and are still hot.
  • Avoid consuming runny eggs and undercooked beef, pork, poultry and seafood. Pork and lamb should be well done; beef can be medium.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables that have been thoroughly cooked. Fruits with a thick covering like citrus, bananas and melons, which you peel yourself, are generally safe to eat if first washed in clean water. Avoid sandwiches made with raw vegetables.
    Do not purchase foods from street vendors.
  • Avoid buffets, restaurants and retail markets that appear unclean. If hot foods are not hot and cold foods are not cold, they should not be eaten. Look to see that the person handling your food appears clean and has clean clothing. Eat meals in one sitting and do not take leftovers with you.
  • In developing countries, avoid tap water in all forms. This includes ice in a glass or water used for brushing your teeth.  Purchase bottled water instead.
  • Consuming large-species fish is not recommended as these may contain unsafe levels of chemical toxins acquired during their lifetime. These toxins cannot be inactivated by cooking because the chemicals are resistant to high heat.
  • Finally, always remember to wash your hands or use hand gel with more than 60 percent alcohol prior to eating.

If necessary, travelers can find food sources that are considered safer than those mentioned above. For example, sodas and bottled water may be used instead of tap water. Canned, bottled and pasteurized foods are heat treated to ensure safety. Bottled water should be in sealed, tamper-proof containers. Coffee, tea and other hot beverages are considered relatively safe even if full boiling is not assured. Breads, tortillas and other non-cream-filled baked goods are also a good choice, as these products do not readily support the growth of pathogenic microorganisms. Condiments in sealed packages are a safer choice than unsealed mayonnaise. Infant formula should be prepared with boiled water.

The FDA reports that some drugs used abroad for treating diarrhea have been linked to nervous system complications, so take anti-diarrheal tablets with you, as well as a travel-size container of hand sanitizer. It is often a good idea to bring along a few granola bars in case safe food choices are limited.

Source:  Colorado State University Extension

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.

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