Memories, souvenirs, and photos are all great things to bring home from a trip. Less wonderful are E. coli, Hepatitis A, typhoid fever, and other byproducts of tainted food. As counterintuitive as it may seem, you may have to say "no" to some foods in order to say "yes" to a great trip.
Here's our shortlist of foods you should think twice about before tucking into while traveling, especially if you're in a place where water quality is an issue. And before you start eating like a local, remember that you haven't spent years training your immune system to withstand the local bacteria. But take heart: At least cake is usually safe wherever you go.
Artisanal, craft, and ultra-micro-brew may be all the rage, but when you're trying to stay healthy while traveling, don't take it so far that you stray into the potentially dangerous world of moonshine, rotgut, and hooch. Questionable water, storage, and alcohol levels of homemade brews can lead to sometimes serious illness, especially for uninitiated non-locals.
Drinking unpasteurized milk, or eating unpasteurized dairy products like cheese or ice cream, is 150 times more likely to cause a foodborne illness than sticking to pasteurized dairy products, according to the FDA. Pasteurization (or the process of irradiation, in some countries) kills salmonella, E. coli, listeria, and other harmful bacteria that can be found in raw milk.
Related: 5 Foreign Foods That Can Kill You
Craving a crisp salad? Think twice before picking up your fork: The World Health Organization advises against green-leafed vegetables, since they can contain dangerous microorganisms that won't necessarily wash off with water. And in places where the water is of questionable quality, washing can actually compound the problem.
Fish and Shellfish
Bad news: Fish and shellfish may be delicious, but they can also be the source of some truly gnarly illnesses. For instance, anisakiasis is a raw-fish-based invasion of worms in the human gastrointestinal tract. Shellfish poisoning, meanwhile, can have paralytic, neurotoxic, or amnestic symptoms. Other types of seafood poisoning can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and even the sensation that your teeth are about to fall out.
Buffets present a series of logistical food-safety challenges. Keeping foods from spoiling requires constant attention, but buffet food sits unattended for hours. People can cough or sneeze on the food, or touch it with their unwashed hands. Flies easily land—and poop—on food exposed to the air. And then there's the temperature problem: Hot foods need to stay piping hot, and cold foods must remain refrigerator-cold to ward off bacteria growth. With so many elements working against your intestinal health, it's better to steer clear of buffets anywhere you're not 100 percent confident of food handling and safety techniques.
Want to avoid foodborne illness in another country? Then skip runny eggs, novelty cocktails, homemade mayonnaise, and other products that rely on raw or undercooked eggs. If you're preparing local eggs yourself, don't wash or soak them, either—according to the University of Michigan, doing so can drive bacteria from the shell into the interior of the egg.
Fruit has its own special place in the traveler food safety adage, "Boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it!" Avoid fruits that don't come with a built-in thick peel. The good news is that fruits with a thick peel are protected from tainted water and soil, and are considered safe to eat just about everywhere. Bananas, mangoes, pineapple, and papayas are among the delicious fruit protected by their own tough peels. For maximum safety, peel the fruit yourself, and make sure any cutting implements are clean and dry when you start.
Undercooked meat often tastes really good. But you still might consider avoiding it, at least when you're not 100 percent confident about its path from farm to table. Raw meat presents two layers of potential contamination. The exterior surface is basically a canvas for enteric pathogens, but these are easily killed off by cooking. However, there's also the chance of parasitic pathogens in the muscle tissue, and that's why food safety experts make such a big deal about cooking meat to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Even the most adventurous carnivores should avoid eating monkey, bats, and wild game if gastrointestinal health is a priority. The CDC advises against eating "bush meat," the flesh of undomesticated animals. Raw bush meat has been suspected of creating a transmission bridge for Ebola and other animal-to-human viruses. Cooked, the meat can still be problematic, especially for travelers whose bodies are unused to local bacteria. And conservationists suggest avoiding bush meat since it could come from endangered or threatened species.
At first glance, a fun frozen treat like popsicles may seem like the most innocuous item on this list. But poor-quality water, fruit without thick peels, and unpasteurized dairy are often the main ingredients, making popsicles a triple threat in places where food safety may be an issue. If you're in a place where you're avoiding the water, do yourself a flavor and put that ice pop down, too.
--By Christine Sarkis
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