Contaminated food or drinks can cause travelers’ diarrhea and other diseases and disrupt your travel. Travelers to some destinations are especially at risk. Find out which safe eating and drinking habits can reduce your chances of getting sick.
Safe vs. Risky Food
The following foods are usually safe to eat:
- Foods served hot: High heat kills most of the germs that cause travelers’ diarrhea. If cooked food is served steaming hot, it is usually safe to eat. Be careful of food that is cooked and allowed to sit at room temperatures or in a warmer, such as on a buffet. It could become contaminated while sitting out.
- Dry or packaged foods: Most germs require moisture to grow, so foods that are dry, such as potato chips, are usually safe. Additionally, food in factory-sealed containers, such as canned tuna or packaged crackers, are safe as long as it was not opened and handled by another person.
The following foods can be risky to eat:
- Raw foods: Avoid eating raw foods. Fruits or vegetables may be safer to eat if you can peel them yourself or wash them in bottled or disinfected water.
- Stay away from platters of cut-up fruit or vegetables. They may have been contaminated during preparation.
- Be careful with fresh salads. They are more likely to cause sickness because some germs on salad greens can’t be washed off. Also, shredded or finely cut vegetables have a lot of surface area for germs to grow.
- Avoid fresh salsas and other sauces or condiments made from raw fruits or vegetables.
- Be careful with raw meat or seafood, including raw meat that is “cooked” with citrus juice, vinegar, or other acidic liquid (such as ceviche, a dish of raw seafood marinated in citrus juice). They may contain germs.
- Street food: Street vendors may not follow the same food preparation standards or follow the same safety practices that restaurants do, such as handwashing and using thermometers. Eat food from street vendors with caution. If you choose to eat street food, follow the same food safety rules as you would with other foods. For example, if you watch something come straight off the grill, cooked and steaming hot, it’s more likely to be safe.
- Bushmeat: Bushmeat refers to local wild game, generally animals not typically eaten in the United States, such as bats, monkeys, or rodents. Bushmeat can be a source of animal-to-human spread of diseases, such as Ebola. Travelers should avoid eating bushmeat.
Safe vs. Risky Drinks
The following are usually safe to drink:
- Bottled or canned drinks: Drinks from unopened, factory-sealed bottles or cans are safer than tap water; however, vendors in some countries may sell tap water in bottles that are “sealed” with a drop of glue to mimic the factory seal.
- Carbonated drinks, such as sodas or sparkling water, are typically safe since the bubbles indicate that the bottle was sealed at the factory.
- If you are drinking directly from a can, wipe off the lip of the can before it touches your mouth.
- Hot drinks: Hot coffee or tea should be safe if it is served steaming hot. It’s okay to let it cool before you drink. Do not drink coffee or tea that is served warm or at room temperature.
- Be careful about adding things that may be contaminated to your hot drinks, such as cream or lemon. Sugar is usually fine because it is a dry food.
- Milk: Pasteurized milk from a sealed bottle is usually safe to drink. Do not drink milk stored in open containers, such as pitchers, that may have been sitting at room temperature; this includes cream for coffee or tea.
- Unpasteurized foods carry risks for all travelers; however, it is especially important for pregnant women or people who have a weakened immune system to avoid unpasteurized milk, cheese, and yogurt.
- Alcohol: The alcohol content of most liquors kills germs; when choosing mixers, stick to the guidelines about what types of food and drink are safer. Avoid drinks that have ice. The alcohol content of beer and wine is often not high enough to kill germs, but if it came from a sealed bottle or can, it should be okay.
The following drinks can be risky to drink:
- Tap water: Do not drink the tap water in most middle and low-income countries, even in cities. This includes swallowing water when showering or brushing your teeth. Brush your teeth with bottled or disinfected water. Tap water can be disinfected by boiling, filtering, or chemically treating it, such as with bleach or another chlorine product.
- Fountain drinks: Sodas from a fountain, such as ones in restaurants, are made by carbonating water and mixing it with flavored syrup. Since the water most likely came from the restaurant’s tap, do not drink fountain drinks.
- Ice: Do not use ice in developing countries; it was likely made with tap water.
- Freshly squeezed juice: Avoid fruit juice, ice pops and other treats with freshly squeezed juice that were made by others. It is fine to drink fruit juice or eat ice pops and other treats if you wash the fruit in clean water and squeezed the juice yourself.