Food and drinks

Latest update: - Authors: Mieke Croughs, Ula Maniewski-Kelner

Food and drinks can be contaminated with bacteria, viruses or parasites that can cause various diseases. 

Diarrhoea is particularly common in travellers and usually disappears without treatment. However, more serious infections - such as dysentery or typhoid fever - can also occur. 

Older people, young children and people with immune disorders or other health problems are generally more susceptible to infections. This also applies to people with reduced stomach acid production, for example after taking antacids or following gastric bypass surgery. 

Risk areas

Food-borne infections occur all over the world, but the risk is higher in countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America with a lower standard of hygiene.

Prevention

Prevention of food-borne infections

It is impossible to prevent food-borne infections completely, but the following measures reduce the risk:

Basic hygiene

Wash your hands with soap and water or a disinfectant alcohol gel before cooking or eating and after using the toilet.

Kitchen

Do not allow people who are sick to prepare food.

To be avoided

(Half) raw foods:

  • Salads 
  • Uncooked or unbaked foods 
  • Fruit that you have not peeled yourself or washed yourself in clean water 
  • Uncooked or unpasteurised milk products 
  • Dishes that contain raw eggs 
  • Raw or partially cooked fish and seafood 
  • Undercooked meat 

Dishes that were cooked, but were then left at room temperature for hours (i.e. eat only food that has been thoroughly heated and is still warm). 

Ice cream from street vendors (industrially produced ice cream in the original packaging straight from the freezer is probably safe). 

Tap water and ice cubes (even in alcohol). Bottled water and soft drinks are generally safe. Be wary of re-used crown caps. If you only have access to contaminated water, you can purify it yourself. 

Drinks that have been diluted with water that has not been boiled. Cold water that has not been boiled is sometimes added to hot tea or coffee just before serving. 

Cold buffets, particularly if the food is chilled directly using ice. 

Street stalls, unless the food is thoroughly cooked and consumed immediately, whilst still hot.

Insects

Ensure that flies cannot get into your food. Avoid restaurants with a lot of flies or other insects and with a low turnover.

Washing dishes

Do not wash dishes in clear streams, but rather wash in hot soapy water and use a clean dishcloth and towels.

Bathing

Do not swallow (contaminated) water when swimming, in spas and when brushing your teeth.

Chilling

Store food and leftovers in a refrigerator.

Be prepared

Bring ORS (a mixture of salts and glucose) and an anti-diarrhoea medicine (such as loperamide) with you. In exceptional cases, it is recommended that you also take an antibiotic with you. Discuss this with your doctor.

In case of symptoms

Treatment of traveler's diarrhea.

Seek medical advice if you suffer any other symptoms.

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