Summer is the season of travelling and vacations. It is also the season of "Tourista", an illness which, though confused with the stomach flu, which may be caused by contaminated food and drink. You can reduce the risk of sickness spoiling your holidays by taking some simple precautions.
Can you trust the restaurant?
Travelling involves eating in unfamiliar restaurants. To judge their safety, look first at the general conditions including the restrooms. Servers should be tidy and plates, glasses, and cutlery should be free of spots and dirt as carelessness in the dining area indicates poor hygiene in the kitchen.
Examine salad bars and buffets: hot food should steam and cold food should be at refrigerator temperatures or displayed on ice. Also check that clean dishes are provided for second trips and that serving utensils have long handles.
Check the caps and seals of bottles
Food and drink, when not properly handled, can carry bacteria, viruses or parasites.
Chlorinated water is usually safe. If you are not sure about the water quality, drink only tea and coffee, canned or bottled beverages. If the water is unsafe, so are ice cubes and drinking containers, so drink directly from cans and bottles. Wipe them clean and dry before opening them. Be sure that caps and seals are intact. Brush your teeth with bottled water or water made safe by boiling for one minute (longer at high altitudes). If this is not feasible, you can buy iodine tablets at pharmacies to disinfect water.
Choose your food carefully
Avoid raw food and products made from unpasteurised milk. Eat only cooked foods that are still hot or fruits/vegetables that you have peeled yourself as they may have been rinsed with contaminated water. Remember that bowls of complimentary foods (peanuts and crackers with your aperitif, chocolates with your coffee) that are touched by many different people are likely to contain bacteria from unwashed hands. Be very cautious with food sold by street vendors.
… and if you could not avoid it
Diarrhoea is dangerous because it can dehydrate your body, causing weakness and dizziness. Do not use anti-diarrhoeal medicines as soon as you get diarrhoea -- give your body a day or two to solve the problem naturally. Charcoal tablets or tannins may ease discomfort. If you get diarrhoea, drink safe fluids as often as possible. Start with water, clear soup, and weak tea. Soft drinks are also good because they contain sugar.
Oral rehydration solutions (ORS) are effective because they are absorbed quickly. Mix them with clean water or bottled water, following package instructions. If necessary, add lemon juice to improve the taste. Try to eat if you can. Start with light foods such as dry toast, rice and crackers. Later, add boiled meats and cooked vegetables. At this stage avoid milk, dairy products, fresh produce, fried foods, and spicy or greasy food except yoghurt and certain probiotics which can restore "good" gut flora swept away by diarrhoea. Diarrhoea often goes away without treatment. However, if the sickness lasts more than a few days, seek treatment.
By following these basic rules, you can significantly reduce any risk of spoiling your holidays and enjoy the pleasures and fun of discovering the cuisine of your holiday destination.