Vacations are a great way to get a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday routines. Fun in the sun can be great, especially for the photos you’ll get to share with your family and friends. But those happy times can quickly take a turn for the worse if you let foodborne illnesses or tummy troubles ruin your getaway. Try to avoid these 11 foods and drinks whenever possible while on vacation to stay on the safe side and enjoy your retreat.
11. Raw Fish
Vacations near the sea might call for an invitation to taste a platter of raw seafood, but try to avoid it. “Avoid raw oysters and all other raw shellfish, which can make you really sick and ruin your vacation,” said Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, a registered dietitian in Boston. Raw and some undercooked shellfish, such as clams and mussels, can place you at risk of vibriosis, a serious infection that can result in death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Cooking shellfish properly destroys the germs that cause illness, so don’t avoid all seafood, just avoid the raw kind,” said Ward.
10. Tap Water
You might think that water is water everywhere, and therefore pay no attention to it; however, you might want to think again. Water can contain microorganisms that are foreign to your gastrointestinal tract, especially in developing countries around the world. For instance, in Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia, there’s a higher risk of water being contaminated with bacteria, fecal matter, and parasites. “When traveling to regions of the world that are new to your gut, it’s best to stick with bottled water and filtered water,” says Niket Sonpal, MD, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City. You should also consider brushing your teeth with bottled water as well! Always check to make sure the bottles have not been re-used.
9. Raw Produce
Unless vegetables and fruits have a thick skin, like bananas, you should avoid raw produce in areas where the water isn’t safe to drink. This means skipping salads and salsas made with uncooked tomatoes, onions, and/or peppers, and opting instead for cooked fruits and veggies. “While you’re curled over the toilet cursing the hot dog or seafood you ate, the accompanying lettuce or tomato could have been the real culprit,” said Sonpal.
8. Unpasteurized Dairy
Stopping at local farmers’ markets might seem like a great idea while vacationing, but you should probably skip these adventures, especially if you’re a child, are pregnant, or have a weakened immune system. “Unpasteurized cheese has been associated with pathogenic microorganisms like Listeria monocytogenes,” said Toby Amidor, MS, RD, author of Smart Meal Prep for Beginners. “Pregnant women who consume foods with the bacteria, especially in the third trimester, can experience miscarriage or stillbirth.” According to the CDC, listeriosis is a serious infection that affects an estimated 1,600 people per year, and about 260 die from it.
7. IceRelated: The 10 Dirtiest Foods You’re Eating
It’s hot outside and you’re thinking of cooling off with a cold refreshing beverage; however, you might be better off drinking your beverage at room temperature in countries with unsafe drinking water. And also remember to avoid frozen or blended drinks made with ice. “Research shows that many people who develop travelers’ diarrhea from E. coli don’t contract it from the local water, but from the ice that their drinks are chilled with,” said Sonpal. Travelers’ diarrhea affects 30 to 70 percent of travelers and can also cause symptoms like fever and vomiting.
6. Buffet Food
Buffets offer a great variety of food, but they are also a red flag for illness. Add this one to the list of things to avoid as well. “You should definitely be wary of dishes that are part of a buffet spread that has been sitting out for a questionable length of time at unsuitable temperatures,” said Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, MD, MS, an internal medicine physician in New York City. Although high heat can kill germs that cause travelers’ diarrhea, food that is cooked thoroughly yet left at warm or room temperatures may become re-contaminated. Hot foods should always be kept at an internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Cold foods should be kept at an internal temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, and any perishable food items left at room temperature for more than two hours should be discarded, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
5. Fountain Drinks
Feel like drinking a soda? Try drinking one where the bottle or can is completely sealed, since some fountain drinks are typically created by mixing flavored syrup and carbonated water. The water is likely coming straight from the tap and should always be avoided in foreign countries. The same should be applied to fountain juices that are also created by combining juice concentrate with tap water. When drinking from a can, use a straw to avoid direct contact with the surface.
4. MelonRelated: 15 Clean Foods You Don’t Need To Buy Organic
“I try to avoid cut melon while traveling,” said Heather Steele, RD, a registered dietitian in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “The rind of melons can occasionally be exposed to E. coli, and given enough time at the right temperature, that can allow the bacteria to grow to a level that makes us sick.” Per a study in Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, contaminated melons have been known to cause salmonella and norovirus.
Eating raw animal products can often be a gamble, especially when consumed in foreign countries. “While the United States has one of the safest food supplies in the world, traveling outside of the country for vacation can land you in a country that isn’t so diligent about food safety,” said Joan Salge Blake, EdD, EDN, a clinical associate professor of nutrition at Boston University. “Avoid consuming uncooked meat, seafood, and poultry, all of which are grounds for foodborne pathogens that can send you to the local ER and ruin your vacation in one bite. Wait until you get home to eat the sushi, unless you are eating from a reputable restaurant that you’re confident is preparing the food safely.” When dealing with raw fish, research in the Journal of Travel Medicine revealed that eating it is particularly risky in southeast Asia, because it may cause infection via bacteria or parasites.
2. Alfalfa Sprouts
If you find alfalfa sprouts are listed on the menu as part of the dish you are going to eat, ask your waiter to leave them out, according to Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, a nutritionist in Osage City, Kansas. “Sprouts are difficult to clean thoroughly and are a perfect breeding ground for microbes such as salmonella, since they grow in warm, wet conditions.” Alfalfa sprouts can also harbor listeria and E. coli, which can multiply significantly during the vegetable’s sprouting process.
1. BushmeatRelated: 6 Household Items That Are Making You Sick
Bushmeat might be tempting to try when vacationing in other countries, but remember that these bushmeats often include bats, monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees, crocodiles, elephants, and even rodents from the forests and savannas of African countries. “These may seem exotic to try in other countries, but they can be a source of diseases such as Ebola and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome,” says Amidor. Not to mention that bushmeat also directly contributes to the decline of endangered animal species in those regions, so it’s better off avoided.