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Posted: 01/09/20234,326 Views

Food poisoning is the bane of many international travelers. One moment, you’re enjoying a delicious meal in your dream destination, and the next you’re in total agony. But why does it happen? Why is it so common on international trips? How can you avoid it? And what can you do to treat it? Let’s answer all of those questions, so you can get back to enjoying your vacation.

What is Food Poisoning?

Most healthcare professionals define food poisoning as an illness or disease caused by consuming contaminated food that contains a virus, parasite, or bacteria. 

There are many different types of food poisoning. Some, like Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) are caused by foods that aren’t cooked after handling. Others, like Salmonella or E. coli are caused by consuming raw or undercooked meat, unpasteurized milk, or raw fruits and vegetables. Viral food poisoning like norovirus is usually caused by eating contaminated food such as greens, fruits, and shellfish. Contaminated water contained within the food can also lead to many of these types of food poisoning.

With most types of food poisoning, the result is typically some combination of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. Even in the best scenarios, a case of food poisoning can ruin at least a couple days of your vacation. In worse cases, a trip to the hospital may be required.

Why Do International Travelers Get Food Poisoning?

When you travel abroad, you’re more likely to try foods and dishes that you’ve never eaten before. And since you’re traveling, you’re probably going to get most of your meals from restaurants and street vendors. Sometimes, it can be impossible to know if these establishments utilize safe and sanitary techniques to prepare or store food. Plus, many countries do not have potable drinking water, and laws regarding food safety standards can vary wildly. 

In the end, international travelers often eat unfamiliar foods prepared in a questionable manner, putting them at greater risk of food poisoning.

How Can You Avoid Food Poisoning Abroad?

Since part of experiencing a new culture is indulging in its cuisine (and you likely won’t want to subsist on granola bars and sandwiches brought from home for an entire trip), you can follow these tips to lessen your risk of digestive issues:

  • If you’re traveling to a country where the tap water is not safe to drink, avoid consuming it at all costs. But that doesn’t just mean drinking bottled water or purified water; you also have to consider the water that’s used in your food. If you order a salad or buy fresh fruits and vegetables, they’ve probably been washed with that same tap water. Either wash them again in purified water, or avoid eating uncooked meals from restaurants altogether. Choose something hot and fully cooked instead.
  • Use your senses – If you see a line of food vendors on the street, use your eyes to see which ones are busy and which ones are not. If no one is buying food from a vendor, there’s probably a reason why. You can also use your eyes to see if the food appears hot and fresh, and the preparation area clean. Finally, use your nose and tastebuds. If something seems off, avoid or stop eating it. Your body can tell you when it’s a bad idea to consume something.
  • Stick to local cuisine – You may love hamburgers, but your chance of finding someone who’s well-versed in safely cooking one is far less in Iran than it is in Ohio. It’s better to stick to local dishes at popular restaurants. The chefs and cooks are experts at making these meals, and a restaurant packed full of locals enjoying their food is a telltale sign that they’re serving a safe, quality product.

When to Seek Treatment

If your food poisoning symptoms are nothing more than an upset stomach that improves after a day or so, you can likely recover with rest and adequate hydration. However, if you experience severe vomiting or diarrhea, are expelling blood, experiencing slurred speech, any sort of paralysis, or your symptoms persist beyond two days, you should seek medical attention. However, these are not hard guidelines. If you feel concerned about your symptoms, please speak to a medical professional at your earliest opportunity. If you feel that it is an emergency, call the country's emergency phone number immediately.

Does Travel Insurance Cover Food Poisoning?

In most cases, yes. However, you should make it a point to read the policy/certificate wording of any plan prior to purchase. This way, you will know for sure.

The majority of visitors medical insurance or travel medical insurance plans can cover food poisoning treatment as stated in the certificate wording just as they’d cover any other new illness that occurs after the effective date of the policy. 

Similarly, if your travel insurance plan covers emergency medical treatment, it will typically include coverage for food poisoning as detailed in the policy/certificate.

In Conclusion

Food poisoning is avoidable in many cases while traveling abroad. You simply need to be smart about what you choose to put in your body. However, sometimes even the most careful traveler can fall victim to an unplanned illness. Therefore, it’s imperative that you purchase appropriate international insurance coverage for your trip.

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