When you’re traveling, it’s easy to innocently and mindlessly consume meals. However, you must keep in mind that other countries won’t always prepare your favorite foods how you would at home. Countless trips to the bathroom can certainly ruin your experience, so before you fly, refer to our food safety tips for traveling abroad.

1. Avoid Drinking Tap Water

In many countries, tap water isn’t a safe option due to bacteria, parasites, and viruses. In fact, even a small amount of tap water from another country has the potential to make you sick. Therefore, you’ll need to reach for bottled water whenever possible. Just be sure the seal is intact before drinking from the bottle. Feeling fancy? Carbonated water or seltzer is an excellent option because the bubbles will let you know that the bottle has been properly sealed.

Also, although you may be tempted to add ice cubes to your water, we suggest foregoing them, as they’re commonly made from tap water.

2. Pay Close Attention When Eating from Street Vendors

A good rule of thumb when eating street food is to only order food from popular vendors who practice good hygiene and prepare food directly in front of you. More likely than not, busy vendors offer fresher food; typically, certain carts will have less foot traffic because their food isn’t fresh.

street food being sold in Bangkok, Thailand
Street food in Bangkok, Thailand. Taken by L. Chang via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

3. Refrain from Eating Raw Foods

In most cases, you’ll want to avoid raw foods abroad. This includes raw or undercooked eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, and even fruits and vegetables. Although raw fruits and veggies may seem safe, they could’ve been rinsed with contaminated water. These foods are generally only safe to eat if they have a skin you can peel yourself—think bananas and oranges.

Cooked meat, seafood, and vegetables are your best bet. Keep in mind that this excludes food that is cooked and then left out at room temperature. For instance, you should avoid buffets because the food sits out for several hours at a time. You’ll want to reach for piping hot food because the high heat kills bacteria and germs. If you have access to a kitchen, you can also boil water for coffee or tea. This is generally a safe bet, especially if you’re craving a beverage other than water.

In terms of other foods, dry foods such as breads, cakes, and cookies are safe options. Pasteurized dairy from large commercial factories, such as ultra-pasteurized milks and hard cheeses, are also safe.

[Have a sour tummy? Here’s how to prevent an upset stomach while traveling abroad.]

4. Select Packaged Foods

Good news! Packaged foods—such as your favorite chips and other guilty pleasure snacks—are usually safe. Because people aren’t handling this food, you should be in the clear. Remember to check for damaged packaging before consuming your snacks.

[Did you know that traveler’s diarrhea is its own thing? Check that out and other terms in our complete travel glossary.]

5. Prioritize Personal Hygiene

At home and abroad, washing your hands is key to preventing illness. Before eating or preparing food, you should always wash your hands with safe water and soap. If fresh water isn’t available, opt for disinfectant wipes or an antibacterial hand sanitizer.

In the end, even if you do end up getting sick, there’s no need to panic. Most food-related illnesses should subside in a few days—just take it easy and listen to your body.

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