Traveler's Tips for Safe Eating

To avoid illness when you are traveling, it is important to select food with care. Keep the following in mind:

  • All raw food is subject to contamination. 

  • In areas where hygiene and sanitation are inadequate, you should avoid salads, uncooked vegetables, and unpasteurized milk and milk products such as cheese.

  • Eat only food that has been cooked and is still hot.

  • Eat only fruit that has been peeled (by the traveler). 

  • Undercooked and raw meat, fish, and shellfish can carry various intestinal pathogens.

  • Cooked food that has been allowed to stand for several hours at ambient temperature can provide a fertile medium for bacterial growth and should be thoroughly reheated before serving. 

  • Consumption of food and beverages obtained from street food vendors has been associated with an increased risk of illness. 

  • The easiest way to guarantee a safe food source for an infant younger than 6 months of age is to have the infant breast fed. If the infant is formula fed, make sure the formula is prepared from commercial powder and boiled water.

I smell something fishy....beware! 

  • Some species of fish and shellfish can contain poisonous biotoxins, even when well cooked. The most common type of biotoxin in fish is ciguatoxin. The flesh of the barracuda is the most toxic laden and should always be avoided. Red snapper, grouper, amberjack, sea bass, and a wide range of tropical reef fish contain the toxin at unpredictable times.

  • The potential for ciguatera poisoning exists in all subtropical and tropical insular areas of the West Indies and the Pacific and Indian Oceans where the implicated fish species are eaten. Symptoms of ciguatera poisoning include gastroenteritis followed by neurologic problems such as dysesthesias; temperature reversal; weakness; and, rarely, hypotension.

  • Scombroid is another common fish poisoning that occurs worldwide in tropical, as well as temperate, regions. Fish of the Scombridae family (for example, bluefin, yellowfin tuna, mackerel, and bonito), as well as some nonscombroid fish (for example, mahimahi, herring, amberjack, and bluefish) may contain high levels of histidine in their flesh. With improper refrigeration or preservation, histidine is converted to histamine, which can cause flushing, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and urticaria.

  • Cholera cases have occurred among people who ate crab brought back from Latin America by travelers.

  • Travelers should be advised not to bring perishable seafood with them when they return to the United States from high-risk areas.

For additional information, please visit the Travel Medicine Center.

Portions of the above information was provided with the kind permission of the Centers for Disease Control.

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Last Editorial Review: 5/15/2002