Stranger Danger: Stay Away From These Foods While Traveling

One of the most exciting traveling experiences is trying new food. But many tourists are concerned about food safety. Dan Solis, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) director, says that many countries don’t have the manufacturing and safety laws that some tourists need.

If you haven’t adjusted to local cuisine, you could get sick even if you’ve eaten the meal before. Some fruits carry pathogens if they aren’t peeled. Many countries don’t clean their tap water, and others don’t pasteurize their dairy. To avoid illness, read about the foods you shouldn’t eat while traveling.

Peel Raw Fruits And Vegetables Before Eating

An orange is peeled on a table.
Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If you buy from fruits and vegetables abroad, don’t assume that they’ve been washed. Some sellers may not adhere to food safety standards. Leaving this produce out allows pathogens to multiply, especially in tropical countries. Always clean and peel your fruits and vegetables before eating, says the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Bananas, apples, avocados, and carrots can all be peeled. Most bacteria will sit on top of the food, and peeling may remove them. If you want to make sure that all pathogens are gone, cook or steam your produce.

Never Buy Bushmeat

Bushmeat is sold on the side of the road in Cameroon.
Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images
Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images

Bushmeat is hunting and selling wild animals for food. Depending on the country, these may include bats, monkeys, or squirrels. Not only is this illegal in some areas, but it’s also dangerous. According to the UN, bushmeat may spread tuberculosis, ebola, yellow fever, and other fatal diseases.

The CDC adds that bushmeat is not regulated. Because it is illegal in many areas, the vendors may not adhere to food safety regulations. It may seem “exotic,” but avoid bushmeat at all costs. Some people have died from bushmeat-related diseases.

Frozen Meals Come With A Risk

Frozen meals are displayed in a supermarket in Thailand.

Frozen meals may not be safe when you’re traveling abroad. Physician Jane Wilson-Howarth, the author of The Essential Guide to Travel Health, says that frozen foods are riskier than fresh ones. These meals are often frozen, thawed, and then refrozen before hitting the shelves.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that you can refreeze foods that have been in the refrigerator. However, if the foods have remained thawed for over two hours, it’s not safe to refreeze. You don’t know how frozen meals are handled abroad, so eat with caution.

Tap Water Isn’t Clean In Some Countries

A boy drinks water from a faucet in Greece.
Michele Amoruso/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Michele Amoruso/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

If you have to ask whether the tap water is safe, it probably isn’t. The FDA advises against drinking tap water abroad, including water used to brush your teeth. Unless the country has safe, regulated tap water, purchase bottled water instead.

If you need to use tap water (such as for coffee or tea), boil it first. The World Health Organization recommends bringing it to a “vigorous boil;” that will kill all microorganisms. If you can’t do that, you may need to use a disinfectant such as iodine tablets.

Ask For Drinks Without Ice

Helena Lopes/Unsplash
Helena Lopes/Unsplash

In over 187 countries, tap water is not safe to drink. This includes brushing your teeth with tap water, washing produce, and yes, ice. Ice can be dangerous because it melts and releases pathogens into your drink that could get you sick.

The National Health Service tells tourists to avoid putting ice in their drinks. If you are unsure, ask the wait staff of your hotel. Remember that tap water needs to be boiled before safely consuming, and ice usually isn’t boiled beforehand. If you want to make safe ice, use bottled water.

Eating Raw Meat And Seafood Is A Risk

A man picks up raw tuna with chopsticks.

Avoid raw meat and seafood while traveling, as these can get you sick. Raw animal products harbor dangerous bacteria. The World Health Organization says that meals should be steaming hot. If the juices appear pink, it may be undercooked.

Cooked meats should also be stored in heat. If you see a street vendor or buffet that leaves cooked foods out at room temperature or on ice, beware. Always keep raw and cooked food separated because bacteria from the raw products can spread and infect cooked food.

Never Trust Unpasteurized Milk Products

A person holds up a glass of milk.
Lukas Schulze/picture alliance via Getty Images
Lukas Schulze/picture alliance via Getty Images

Unpasteurized milk, also called raw milk, is not safe to consume. Pasteurization is the heating process that destroys bacteria in dairy. The CDC explains that unpasteurized dairy contains life-threatening pathogens, including E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella.

While traveling, read the label on dairy products. It should say “pasteurized” somewhere. Don’t trust homemade or “soft” dairy products such as ice cream. And don’t believe people who say that raw milk is safe and has greater nutritional value. The FDA asserts that both of these assumptions are false.

Shellfish Are More Dangerous Than Unshelled Fish

A cooked lobster sits on a plate in a Canadian restaurant.
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Eating fish can always be a risk while traveling, but shellfish increases that risk. Most shellfish are “bottom-feeders” and live along with harmful bacteria. According to the CDC, many shellfish (such as oysters) eat Vibrio bacteria in the water, and the pathogens get stuck in their shells.

If the shellfish is raw or undercooked, these bacteria could get you sick. Victims could suffer from diarrhea, vomiting, and gastroenteritis. The Microbiology Society says that in the worst cases, shellfish can cause paralysis and organ failure. Better safe than sorry; avoid shellfish while traveling.

How To Choose Safe Street Food

A vendor pushes a food cart across the street.
Fernando Camacho / Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

While some street vendors are safe to buy from, others may increase your risk of foodborne illness. The trick is knowing which stall to visit. The World Health Organization recommends visiting busy street carts. Not only is their food popular, but the food is more likely to be fresh because so many people are buying.

Search for vendors with transparent kitchens. If they pair raw food with cooked food, or if they don’t wash the produce, choose another stall. Visit these stalls during meal times when their food is more likely to be fresh.

Beware Of Certain Juices And Smoothies

A vendor in London sells fresh juice.
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Juice products, including smoothies, fresh juice, and popsicles, may not be safe in certain countries. Vendors may use the contaminated tap water to wash the fruit or blend the drinks. If the fruits have peels, the peel or skin may have been blended in, too.

The FDA says that cooked produce is less likely to be contaminated. Fruit sauces and purees should be fine, and juices can be safe if they are washed with clean water. Bottled juices may be less contaminated than fresh-squeezed ones that people buy from a vendor.

When To Avoid Condiments, Salsas, And Sauces

Unsplash/Luke van Zyl
Unsplash/Luke van Zyl

For the most part, condiments and sauces can be safe to eat as long as you know what you’re buying. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds travelers to use sealed bottles only. If the sealing has been tampered with or left out at room temperature, avoid it.

Some sauces and salsas are made with fresh produce. In that case, remember the water quality of the country. These sauces may not be adequately washed, according to the FDA. Even if the restaurant is clean, the food may not be.

Certain Unripe Fruits Are Poisonous

A man holds up an ackee, the Jamaican national fruit.
Ghislaine BRAS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Ghislaine BRAS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Most fruits are safe to eat when they aren’t fully ripe. But other fruits, including lychee, ackees, and Chinese lantern berries, may cause some problems. According to Spoon University, these unripe fruits have poisonous chemicals that could cause foodborne illness and seizures.

Of these, the ackee is perhaps the most notorious. Ackees are Jamaica’s national fruit, but they may cause “Jamaican vomiting sickness” if you eat them unripe. Fresh ackee has even been banned from the U.S. The takeaway? Don’t eat new produce unless you’ve researched it first.

Why Fresh Vegetables May Harm People

Lettuce grows on a platform.

The FDA advises against ordering fresh foods, including salads, at international restaurants. It’s not because fresh produce isn’t safe to eat. According to the Independent Traveler, countries have different natural fertilizers that tourists aren’t used to consuming. If people are used to the fertilizers, they won’t be affected.

If the produce has not been properly washed, you may consume fertilizers that will cause intestinal distress. In countries with low water quality, avoid fruits and vegetables until you can wash them in uncontaminated water. Remember, restaurants may only have tap water at their disposal.

Don’t Drink “Homemade” Brew

People in Germany toast with mugs of beer during Oktoberfest.
TOBIAS HASE/DPA/AFP via Getty Images
TOBIAS HASE/DPA/AFP via Getty Images

Tourists who are on vacation may want to try local brew and craft. But Fox News reports that some countries don’t handle drinks correctly. Unsafe handling, knockoff brands, and unknown ingredients could make people sick.

The Overseas Security Advisory Council warns tourists against trying homemade or counterfeit beverages. These are less likely to adhere to safety regulations. While drinking, don’t go crazy. If you’re not used to the climate, you could become dehydrated or intoxicated more quickly. Always practice common sense, even if you’re on vacation.

Ignore Deli Meats That Have Been Left Out

Meats, breads, and cheeses lie out in a meat platter in Tuscany.
David Silverman/Getty Images
David Silverman/Getty Images

Meat platters carry a higher risk of pathogens than those in the grocery store. According to the North American Meat Institute, deli meats are precooked and safe to eat when packaged. But if they’re left out on a platter, they could get contaminated.

The USDA says that meat shouldn’t stay out of the fridge for more than two hours. If you go to a country with a meat and cheese platter, ask how long it’s been out. Watch out for buffets that may have kept the food out for a while.

Raw And Runny Eggs Aren’t Cleaned Beforehand

Raw quail eggs are in a plastic container.
Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In some countries, eggs aren’t handled with as much caution as other nations. Food scientist and physician William Li told the Huffington Post that the United States treats all raw eggs for Salmonella. However, other countries may not have that protocol. If left unwashed, any raw egg with the shell still on can carry pathogens.

In the U.S., many companies pasteurize eggs to kill Salmonella. But not all countries have the same safety protocols. If you aren’t sure, avoid any product with raw eggs (including mayonnaise) or runny eggs (such as sunny-side-up).

Some Drinks Contain Spit

A customer pours chicha into a container at a brewery.
Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Depending on where you travel, some drinks are made with saliva. For instance, an indigenous beverage in Brazil called chicha includes saliva. Japanese kuchikamizake (sake) is fermented with saliva. If you aren’t used to the local diet, you may not want to drink these.

On the other hand, plenty of people drink these with no problem. National Geographic reports that in some areas, these fermented beverages are safer than tap water. Research the local area, ingredients, and potential risks before you indulge.

Unless You’re An Expert, Don’t Gather Wild Mushrooms

People trade wild mushrooms in a Chinese market.
Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images
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Unless you’re an expert at gathering mushrooms, don’t do it. Mushrooms vary from region to region. While you’re traveling, you may not be familiar with the wild mushroom varieties. According to Poison Control, poisonous mushrooms can cause vomiting, diarrhea, headache, stomach upset, hallucinations, and even coma.

Some mushrooms can cause longterm effects. Certain species contain the poison Amanita virosa, although they can be mistaken for edible mushrooms. Stick to vegetables that you know are safe and only purchase them from trusted sources. Don’t gather them yourself.

Maggot-Filled Cheese, Or Casu Marzu, Should Be Avoided

Casu marzu, maggot-infested cheese from Sardinia, is on display.
JOHAN NILSSON/AFP via Getty Images
LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images

Not eating maggots seems like common sense. But in the Mediterranean, it’s a delicacy. Casu marzu is fermented with maggots and cheese flies. It is considered the “world’s most dangerous cheese” and is outlawed in several countries.

What’s the risk? According to the European Food Safety Authority, casu marzu is intended to be eaten while the maggots are alive. If you don’t chew them, they can burrow into your intestines. Plus, live maggots can leap up to six feet into the air. That’s why casu marzu is found on the black market.

The Safe Way To Navigate Buffets

Chefs serve buffet style fruit on a cruise.
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

You can safely eat at a buffet while traveling. However, you may want to go in with a strategy. According to food science professor Randy Worobo, buffet foods risk entering the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, if foods are kept lukewarm, they may harbor dangerous bacteria.

Avoid foods that sit in room temperature for a long time. Cooked meals should be hot, not warm. If the buffet is busy, then the food is more likely to be fresh. Ignore anything that looks wilted or could be unwashed.