How Not to Get Sick When Traveling

Whether you’re traveling within or outside the United States, part of the fun of traveling is getting to try all sorts of cuisines, which is exciting and potentially dangerous at the same time.

Common bacteria like salmonella, or contamination in restaurant kitchens, can grow when food is improperly prepared, cooked or stored. To combat food-borne illness while traveling, follow these tips:

  • If you stop at a store to get food to keep in your hotel room, make sure you read the labels for instructions on how to store foods after opening. And check the “sell by” and expiration dates. (This is good advice even when not traveling.)
  • Make sure fresh produce isn’t bruised; pathogens are more likely to grow on bruised areas. Don’t buy produce with obvious markings, slime or dents.
  • Keep produce away from raw meat, poultry and seafood in your cart and in the refrigerator or cooler.
  • Refrigerate all cut, peeled or cooked fruits and vegetables within two hours after purchasing.
  • Perishable leftovers are safe to eat for a certain period of time—if refrigerated. But discard cooked food that’s been left out for more than two hours, or for more than an hour in temperatures 90 degrees or higher. Ask for a refrigerator in your hotel room, or don’t bring leftovers back to your hotel.
  • Whether you’re renting a house or staying in a hotel with a kitchen, you never know how clean the kitchen is, so make sure you wipe down countertops, cutting boards and utensils before using. Then use gloves or frequently wash your hands while handling food.
  • Many experts warn you to stay away from food prepared by street vendors—just to be safe. But as a native New Yorker who grew up eating street food, I can’t agree—use your best judgment.
  • If you want to try local fruits, choose fruits with a thick covering (citrus fruits, bananas, and melons) that have been washed in safe water, and that you peel yourself.
  • Steer clear of buffets where food has sat out exposed for hours.
  • You can contaminate your own food by touching rails in tourist sites and then using your unwashed hands to eat. Constantly sanitize your hands by washing or using hand sanitizer.
  • Don’t eat unpasteurized dairy products.
  • Ask for food to be cooked well done and served hot. Lukewarm food may have been sitting out a while.

    When traveling to foreign countries, follow these tips from the experts at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

  • Before you leave, find out where to go in case of a medical emergency in your destination city, and always have your insurance information handy in case you need it.
  • Avoid tap water, including beverages with ice. Avoiding drinking tap water when brushing your teeth or bathing. In developing countries, water may be contaminated with bacteria, parasites, and viruses that cause hepatitis, cholera, and typhoid fever. Even a small amount of contaminated water can make you ill.
  • One minute of boiling should adequately disinfect most water, but boiling water for 3 minutes is recommended. You can also treat water with commercial iodine or chlorine tablets.
  • Remember condensation on the outside of cans and bottles may be contaminated, so always wipe clean before opening.
  • Avoid raw fruits and vegetables. This includes salads. These may be contaminated, or may have been rinsed with unsafe water.

    Rieva Lesonsky is an entrepreneur, best-selling author and self-educated health nut. Follow her @Rieva.

    Photo Credit: agaliza/iStock/Thinkstock