Food safety for global travel

January 9, 2014 |

Whether on business travel or vacation, one thing travelers often fear is getting sick, especially when traveling abroad. You can do a lot to boost your immune system before travel, such as getting enough rest and taking vitamin C supplements. But when you're in a new country, there are some precautions to take to avoid getting sick from the food. Here are some food safety tips to pass along to your employees who are about to embark on global travel:

Why the precautions?

It's not that food we eat at home is always safer than food abroad. Sometimes this is the case, with chemical contaminants, viruses and parasites that contaminate food and water. Other times, bacteria is simply present that our bodies are not used to due to regular exposure. But no matter the reasons or source, these contaminants can wreak havoc on the digestive tract – causing diarrhea, fever, chills, vomiting and other unpleasant and sometimes dangerous symptoms.

Foods to avoid

Though it depends on what country you're in, here are the foods that you should generally avoid during business travel if possible, especially when visiting up-and-coming countries:

  • Raw or undercooked meat or fish – this includes steaks ordered rare as well as sushi
  • Wild game, also known as "bushmeat," like monkeys, bats and snakes
  • Raw fruits or vegetables that are unwashed or unpeeled
  • Salads
  • Condiments like salsa, which are made with fresh ingredients
  • Street food
  • Soft-cooked or raw eggs
  • Unpasteurized milk or other dairy products
  • Unpasteurized fruit juices, even if bottled and sealed
  • Fountain drinks
  • Tap water, ice, popsicles
  • Cold meat platters
  • Buffet foods and those served at room temperature

Typically safe foods

Similarly, it depends on what country you're in, but weather you're on adventure travel or business travel, here are some foods typically deemed safe:

  • Thoroughly cooked fruits, veggies, meats and other foods that are served hot (not room temperature)
  • Baked goods like breads, tortillas and pastries
  • Vegetables and fruit that you wash and peel yourself
  • Pasteurized milk and other dairy products
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Processed foods that are bottled, canned or pasteurized – thermal processing ensures safety
  • Hot tea or coffee
  • Water, soda or juice that is bottled and sealed, preferably carbonated
  • Ice made with bottled water
  • Water that has been boiled

Other tips for safe eating

In many instances, it's OK to be cautious and not follow the rules exactly. But for business travel in developing countries, it's always better safe than sorry. Here are some other general tips to help you assess the risks and make informed, good choices about food safety no matter where you're traveling:

  1. Check for a crowd. If you're considering eating at any restaurant or food stall, make sure it's a busy one. The food is likely to be safe at busy spots, otherwise, even the locals wouldn't return.
  2. Avoid ready-to-eat foods. These meals, like cold cut sandwiches, salads and hot dishes kept under a warmer, have likely been handled excessively, putting you at higher risk for food borne illnesses.
  3. Make sure the seal is intact. Sometimes, scheming salespeople refill water bottles. Choose a brand you know, make sure to open it yourself and always check that the seal is intact first.
  4. Adhere to the one-hour rule. Don't eat any perishable foods that have been sitting out for more than an hour.
  5. Choose foods that have spices like turmeric and chilies, which are known to have anti-bacterial properties.

Prepare before travel

Here are a few quick ways you can prepare before heading abroad on business travel to make sure you're safe, food-wise:

  • Purchase water purification tablets in a camping supply store in case you're offered water or must drink water that you think may be contaminated.
  • Pack protein bars, crackers, bottled water and other snacks before heading abroad.
  • Load up on hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes, which are a must for travel.