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Dietary Tips: smart choices while traveling

American chef and food writer James Beard said, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”

Indeed, an undeniable joy of traveling is being immersed in food experiences and cultural traditions. Food provides an understanding and appreciation of a land—the sampling of cuisine and culture awakens your senses, shapes your journey, and adds seasoning to your travel tales.

Food forms the basis for our Flavors travel series here at Orbridge—culinary adventures in Europe featuring wine and olive oil tastings, opportunities to work side-by-side with chefs, and of course regional specialties to savor.

When traveling and unfamiliar with local foods, customs, and another culture’s food safety practices, how does one know the proper precautions to take in order to stay well? Millions of international travelers experience the distress of traveler’s diarrhea and other illnesses each year. Are there geographical areas to exercise enhanced caution? Are certain members of the traveling population more at risk?

According to the Mayo Clinic, high-risk destinations for traveler’s diarrhea include many areas of Central and South America, Mexico, Africa, the Middle East and most of Asia. Eastern Europe and a few Caribbean islands also pose some risk, while food-borne illnesses are generally low in Northern and Western Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.

While destination can play a role, the Mayo Clinic also instructs that certain groups of people have a greater risk of developing a problem. These include:

• Young adults. The condition is slightly more common in young adult tourists. Though the reasons why aren't clear, it's possible that young adults lack acquired immunity. They may also be more adventurous than older people in their travels and dietary choices, or they may be less vigilant in avoiding contaminated foods.

• People with weakened immune systems. A weakened immune system increases vulnerability to infections.

• People with diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease or cirrhosis of the liver. These conditions can leave you more prone to infection or increase your risk of a more-severe infection.

• People who take acid blockers or antacids. Acid in the stomach tends to destroy organisms, so a reduction in stomach acid may leave more opportunity for bacterial survival.

• People who travel during certain seasons. The risk of traveler's diarrhea varies by season in certain parts of the world. For example, risk is highest in South Asia during the hot months just before the monsoons.

To make smart and safer meal choices while traveling, practicing good hygiene and using a common sense approach with regard to eating and drinking is essential.

Wash your hands as often as possible, especially before eating and after using the restroom, touching an animal, or handling raw produce. Use hand sanitizer or wipes when there is no access to soap and water.

General guidelines to ward off food-related illness from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include the following:

Eat

• Food that is cooked and served hot

• Food from sealed packages

• Hard-cooked eggs

• Fruits and vegetables you have washed in safe water or peeled yourself

• Pasteurized dairy products

Don't Eat

• Food served at room temperature

• Food from street vendors

• Raw or soft-cooked (runny) eggs

• Raw or undercooked (rare) meat or fish

• Unwashed or unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables

• Condiments (such as salsa) made with fresh ingredients

• Salads

• Flavored ice or popsicles

• Unpasteurized dairy products

• Bushmeat (monkeys, bats, or other wild game)

Drink

• Water, sodas, or sports drinks that are bottled and sealed (carbonated is safer)

• Water that has been disinfected (boiled, filtered, treated)

• Ice made with bottled or disinfected water

• Hot coffee or tea

• Pasteurized milk

Don't Drink

• Tap or well water

• Fountain drinks

• Ice made with tap or well water

• Drinks made with tap or well water (such as reconstituted juice)

• Unpasteurized milk

Fortunately, food borne illnesses usually aren't serious, but are certainly unpleasant. Enjoy your trip by practicing good hygiene and making informed decisions.

You can even take advice on the go by downloading the CDC’s free app, Can I Eat This? on your mobile device.

Food is necessary not just for survival, but for an authentic travel experience. So whether it’s waking to a breakfast of fried green plantain dumplings in Ecuador, delighting in a fresh, picnic-style lunch while out on a game drive in Tanzania, or indulging in a hearty helping of Canada’s French fries, cheese curds, and gravy creation known as poutine—here’s to memorable meals for all the right reasons!