Sunday, July 9, 2017

Travel Health Misunderstandings

I thought most travelers know at least some of the basics of how to stay healthy when traveling to developing countries. (This is a nice infographic on the topic from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention -- CDC.) But after a few recent international trips, I realized that some travelers have their own interpretation of well-established guidelines, interpretations that leave them open to coming down with a food-borne illness. Here's what I recently observed:

1- When a hot dish arrives on a plate with cold garnishes, such as tomatoes and lettuce, is it OK to eat the produce? The people on my trip all thought so but the correct answer would be "no,." All food you consume should be hot. Just because it's a garnish doesn't mean it's safe to eat it cold.

2- When fruit arrives already peeled in your bowl for breakfast, do you eat it? Apparently many people thought that eating peeled fruit is exactly what you should be doing. But the misinterpretation is that you're supposed to peel the fruit, not someone in the kitchen, where you don't know how the fruit or the knives were washed, nor the hygiene of the kitchen staff or the kitchen.

3- Is it a good idea to drink juice at breakfast? Everyone but me thought this was a good idea. In fact, it's risky unless you know 100% that the juice was not diluted with unsafe water.

4- What about undercooked fried eggs where the yolk is runny; is it safe? Most everyone at my table ate the runny yolk but this isn't the safest strategy. Eggs should not be undercooked.

5- How about a cold sandwich for a picnic lunch made with lettuce, avocado, onions and other cold fixings? Absolutely not. But, then, I was one of the only people who prepared my own sandwiches, relying on peanut butter that I brought with me.

6- Cheese must be safe, right? Not necessarily. Soft cheeses, even in developed countries including in the U.S. and Canada, have been linked with food-borne illness, specifically contamination with a bacteria called Listeria; and if cheese is not properly refrigerated or made from unpasteurized milk, it should also be off limits. Yet, this didn't stop many of the travelers I met from spontaneously ordering cheese sandwiches or buying cheese from small road-side shops with potentially questionable refrigeration conditions.