When you travel abroad, you need constant vigilance and awareness, especially with children, wherever you eat. From bananas in Bengal to couscous in Kathmandu anything edible can turn into days of vomiting and diarrhoea if you transfer toxic bacteria from your hands to your mouth, when eating. Here are five tips for making sure you have a great trip and don’t spend all your precious time in bed or on the loo:
1. Be water aware. The safe way to eat a banana in Bengal is to hold it by the stem, peel it, but be sure not to touch the flesh and transfer minute droplets of water that may be colonized by harmful bacteria. It’s a pain but better than pains of the stomach kind. Bottled water is normally the wise choice over drinking from local taps. Remember to brush your teeth with it too. Boil your drinking water if you have to. Tea, coffee and alcohol are safe choices. If you are in a real water danger spot, you are wise to even avoid the ice cubes.
2. Wash your hands and make sure your kids do the same BEFORE going near food: ALL food, each and EVERY time. Of course you do this at home, but eating out, and especially eating out in Spain or Croatia is a different story. In the UK it is OK to leave food unrefrigerated for about an hour, but this time span is a lot less in warmer climates. So called high energy environments cause bacteria to multiply much faster.
3.All the usual rules apply, but it is even more important not to become laid back about washing hands after using the loo, before you eat, and after touching animals or bins. Always carry antibacterial hand wash or wipes with you, in case there is no sink and soap nearby. Who can resist street food when abroad? Kebabs, chips, ice cream and spiced chicken talons in Taiwan will be prepared and cooked properly (after all the natives are not immune to food poisoning any more than you aren’t). The key to food safety when it comes to street food is be sure it’s fresh, freshly cooked and HOT, hot, hot. In terms of temperature if not spiciness in fact, spiced food can easily cover up out of date meat so it is best to avoid. Cheese and other dairy products may well be made from unpasteurized milk. This makes listeria a possible hazard. Make sure to buy your holiday dairy products from larger reputable retailers.
4. Be your own food hygiene inspector. Do not eat where the tables are not thoroughly clean and free from food debris. If the tables aren’t hygienic, the cutlery is not likely to be clean either. Obviously an abnormal number of flies is a hazard in itself or a sure sign of poor hygiene practices. They are not a recommendation as Humphrey Littleton once memorably said of UK motorway cafes, ‘10,000 flies can’t be wrong. You can also use the Internet to check out the best places to eat at your destination, before you go. There is no end of good recommendations and it adds to the fun anticipation, but never take it for granted that somewhere highly recommended last year is still maintaining the same high standards of food safety. Do open your eyes to all the subtle clues. A spotless well maintained toilet facility is an absolute must.
5. Be aware that young ones are all touchy feely, first and foremost. Watch kids as they sit down at a restaurant table. The first thing they do is rearrange the cutlery and grasp the cutting edges and fork tines in their hands. Make sure those hands have been washed or sterilized first.