Avoid Foodborne Illness when Traveling Abroad
by Robin Woo, FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
Traveling to other countries – and staying healthy – requires planning, preparation, self-discipline, and vigilance.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspects international facilities that make FDA-regulated products to ensure that those products are safe for consumers. So some FDA staffers travel a lot. Here are some precautions they take to keep from getting sick during a trip.
Before You Go
Research. Learn where to find reliable medical care at your destination. Good resources include:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Travelers' Health1
- The CIA World Fact Book2 3
- U.S. Department of State Travel Information4
While in Developing Countries
Avoid tap water. This includes water from the tap and beverages with ice. Don’t drink when brushing your teeth or bathing. In developing countries, water may be contaminated by bacteria, parasites, and viruses that cause hepatitis, cholera, and typhoid fever. Even a small amount of contaminated water can make you ill.
Drink safe beverages.
- Boiled water – One minute of boiling should adequately disinfect most water, but boiling water for 3 minutes is recommended.
- Treated water – Commercial iodine or chlorine tablets provide substantial protection if used according to directions.
- Beverages made with boiled water and served steaming hot (such as tea and coffee).
- Bottled water or canned beverages. Because water on the outside of cans and bottles may be contaminated, they should be wiped clean and dried before being opened.
Water contaminated with fuel or toxic chemicals will not be made safe by boiling or disinfection; travelers should use a different source of water if they suspect this type of contamination.
Avoid raw fruits and vegetables. This includes salads and uncooked vegetables. These may be contaminated or may have been rinsed with unsafe water. Eat only food that has been cooked and is still hot, or fruit that you know has been washed in safe water and you have peeled yourself.
Other foods to avoid include:
- Raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs
- Unpasteurized milk and milk products, especially soft cheeses
- Prepared food that has been left unrefrigerated for several hours, especially food containing meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products
- Food prepared by street vendors
Eat safe foods.
- Thoroughly cooked fruits and vegetables
- Fruits with a thick covering (citrus fruits, bananas, and melons) that have been washed in safe water and that you peel yourself
- Thoroughly cooked meat, poultry, eggs, and fish
- Dairy products from large commercial dairies, such as ultra-pasteurized (shelf-ready) milk or hard cheeses
If you get sick
Remember that adequate fluid intake is essential to preventing dehydration. So it’s important to keep drinking safe water even if you have diarrhea. The most common cause of “Travelers' Diarrhea” can be treated with over-the-counter products, used according to directions. Effective drugs that control the frequency of diarrhea include Lomotil, lomodium, and Kaopectate. Find reliable medical help if you have severe abdominal cramps or pain, high fever, blood or mucus in your stool, and/or severe dehydration.
Don't use EnteroVioform. This drug, widely distributed abroad for treating diarrhea, has been linked to nervous system complications.