This blog will focus on one of the essential components of traveler safety – safe eating. Food or waterborne disease carry the vast majority of all health-related issues commonly encountered on international trips. Many of these illnesses are gastrointestinal in nature and severely compromise the quality of the trip. The focus for every international traveler should be on knowing their disease risk and how to safeguard their trip with proper food/water choices plus meal preparation.

The first mission is to grasp that not every international destination carries a similar risk. Certain countries such as Canada and most of Western Europe have public water infrastructure that generally follows stringent filtration protocols that mimic the United States – drinks away on tap water in these destinations! Other countries for a multitude of socioeconomic reasons do not have these purification systems that allow a US traveler to safely drink municipal water without an elevated risk for illness. Our travel consultation will help determine country specific recommendations on municipal water intake (using CDC and WHO composite data).

If you are traveling to a country that needs extra water safeguards – do not fret! This is common and there are many ways to help protect against illness. Avoiding questionable foods and beverages should be the logical first step of vigilance. Let us list some common recommendations during your trip:

  • Do not drink tap water / fresh water – unless it has been filtered, chemically disinfected, or boiled.
  • Do not drink from unsealed beverages or unknown commercial brands
  • Freezing does not kill the organisms that cause diarrheal disease. Thus, ice in drinks is not safe unless made from adequately boiled or filtered water
  • Alcohol does not sterilize water or ice; mixed drinks may still be contaminated
  • Do not consume raw fruits or vegetables (unless they have an outer/removable skin)
  • Avoid unpasteurized kinds of milk (or products such as ice cream made from this)
  • Verify meats/fish are cooked completely and adequately heated at the time of consumption (do not eat raw/cold/undercooked foods)
  • Avoid street vendors or foods from poor hygienic establishments

Most locations should have access to reputable bottled water and soft drinks (remember the reputable part – many have been fooled with tap water filled bottles. Watch the seals!). There are also many methods to treat/purify municipal water if only poorly purified or unpurified water consumption is available.

Let’s elucidate some common methods to purify water:

  • Boiling for 3 minutes followed by cooling to room temperature (do not add unpurified ice) to kill bacteria, parasites, and viruses
  • Adding two drops of 5 percent sodium hypochlorite (bleach) to a quart of water will kill most bacteria in 30 minutes
  • Adding five drops of tincture of iodine to a quart of water will kill bacteria within 30 minutes
  • Iodine impregnated compact water filters

Leading products for purification can conveniently be purchased from our travel kit section of the site or at the summary page of the travel consultation (via links in the Amazon marketplace). All of these products can also be found at reputable outdoors/travel stores or pharmacies. The more simple solution of boiling water then cooling (in a sanitary fashion) is typically the most palatable solution to water purification (Additives have been known to alter taste of water) and should be the most cost effective manner (but inconvenient). If one abides by the above pearls – they can greatly reduce their risk of food/water borne illness. Travel safe and travel smart friends!


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