The Perils of Food Poisoning and How to Avoid it

by Audrey on May 20, 2013

Few things can ruin a backpacking vacation quicker than food poisoning. Most people when travelling abroad will occasionally experience some intestinal problems; often this is due to a change in climate and water, and is rarely anything serious. However, food poisoning is different. It can lay you up for a number of days, involve a hospital admission, send you home early, and in some cases, such as with salmonella, even be life threatening.

The thing about food poisoning is that you can never predict the sort of places where you are likely to encounter it. It often happens in places you least expect it. For instance, there have been several high profile cases of food poisoning epidemics hitting passengers on cruise liners, despite the five star accommodation and high quality restaurants. While you may think street vendors are a prime location for food poisoning, this is rarely the case as local people, who would soon stay clear if food poisoning was likely, use these on a regular basis.

Street Food at Wangfujing Street - Flickr CC jirka_matousek

Avoiding trouble

You can do a few things to avoid food poisoning when backpacking abroad. The first is to think local when it comes to food. While in many popular backpacking haunts, local cafes, hotels and restaurants are keen to provide American and European tourists with familiar food, they may not be that expert at cooking and preparing it. While local dishes may be highly spiced and cooked in specific ways, often this makes them a lot safer to consume, especially in locations where refrigeration and food hygiene laws may not be on a par with those back home.

It is best to avoid uncooked food, such as salad. Heat is by far the best way to kill the bacteria and germs that cause food poisoning, so it is best to avoid anything that hasn’t been cooked. In addition, you may never know if water used to wash salad is that safe, so where possible, avoid salads and any uncooked foods that can’t be peeled. A good rule of thumb when abroad is to eat where everyone else is eating, in particular the locals. When it comes to food poisoning there is often safety in numbers.

If food poisoning strikes

Even if you are really careful, food poisoning can still strike and often when you least expect it. Usually symptoms of food poisoning come on very quickly, but in most cases, they disappear after 24-48 hours. If you are struck down, the most important thing is to rest and drink plenty of fluids – bottled water is by far the best option to avoid aggravating any problem. It is best to always seek medical help as conditions such as salmonella or dysentery can be really serious.

If you do succumb to food poisoning, you don’t have to suffer in silence. A bad dose of food poisoning can ruin any backpacking trip, but you may be able to hold somebody responsible.  It is important to keep any medical bills and receipts for drugs and hand them to an injury lawyer who specialises in overseas cases when you return from your travels. Normally, these cases are dealt with on a no win, no fee basis and you often get back any costs incurred due to your food poisoning and some compensation for the pain, suffering and ruined holiday.

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