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Food and Water Precautions

Introduction

Following safe food and water precautions will help protect you from food and water that is contaminated with germs (such as viruses and bacteria) or harmful chemicals. These can make you unwell, and this can happen when:

  • you eat or drink unsafe food or water
    • for a small number of illnesses vaccines are available to help protect you, such as hepatitis A and typhoid vaccine
    • for other illnesses, following strict food and water precautions will help protect you
  • you swallow unsafe water, for example when you are swimming, brushing your teeth or using the shower
  • using swimming pools, hot tubs, water playgrounds or spas where the water has not been properly treated with chemicals
    • infections of your skin, ears or eyes might occur

Recommendations for travellers

Practising good general, food and water hygiene precautions reduces your risk of getting travellers’ diarrhoea and other food and water-borne illnesses.

Illnesses caused by food and water are more common in countries that have lower levels of hygiene. You are more at risk of becoming unwell if you:

You should check with your GP or specialist if you think you might be at increased risk of becoming unwell. There might be extra precautions that you need to take during your trip.

Before travel

You should have a pre-travel consultation at least 6 to 8 weeks before you travel. This will allow you to get information on the steps you can take to reduce the risk of becoming unwell, and also complete any recommended vaccination schedules.

You might want to taking a first aid kit with you on your trip:

Food and Water Precautions During Travel

General hand hygiene:

  • wash your hands regularly using soap and clean water:
    • before eating and drinking
    • before and after preparing food, particularly raw meat
    • after using the toilet or changing nappies
    • after visiting food markets
    • after touching live animals
  • if you cannot wash your hands, use alcohol based sanitiser:
    • hand sanitiser is not as effective when your hands are greasy or visibly dirty
    • it may not be completely effective against some germs
  • wash all your dishes, cups and utensils thoroughly before and after use with soap and clean water:
    • alcohol wipes can be used to clean them if you have no access to soap and water

Food Hygiene

Preparation and storage

Cooking is the best way to make your food safe. If you can you should:

  • choose food that is served fresh and whilst still steaming hot
  • avoid pre-prepared foods which are not kept hot, kept refrigerated or kept cool on ice from buffets, street vendors, markets or restaurants
  • avoid reheating leftovers

Meat and seafood
You should avoid:

  • seafood which is raw:
    • fish and shellfish can be hazardous even if well cooked
    • if in doubt then it is best avoided
  • meat that is still red or pink or has red or pink juices

Dairy

  • Only drink or eat pasteurised milk or dairy products:
    • boil milk that is unpasteurised
    • choose well-established retailers or brands if eating unpasteurised cheeses or ice cream
  • Avoid dishes that contain raw or undercooked eggs, such as mayonnaise, some sauces or desserts (e.g. mousse).

Fruit and vegetables

  • Avoid salads and fresh herbs (including garnishes in drinks e.g. mint leaves in mojitos) where drinking water may be unsafe:
    • they may have been washed in contaminated water.
  • Peel all fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes if they are to be eaten raw:
    • avoid types that cannot be peeled
  • Avoid berries, in particular raspberries:
    • they are difficult to wash and may be a source of cyclospora
  • Choose fruit juice from sealed cartons:
    • freshly squeezed fruit juice may have been made with unwashed fruit

Water Hygiene

Tap and bottled water may not be safe if it has not been produced under proper conditions, even if water appears clear and colourless.

  • You should only use water for drinking, making ice cubes or cleaning teeth if it has been:
    • bottled or canned by a known manufacturer and the seal is intact
    • boiled and cooled and stored in a clean container
    • chemically disinfected or passed through a reliable water filter and stored in a clean container
  • Ask for no ice or remove it from your drink:
    • ice cubes may be made using unsafe water

Safe drinks include:

  • hot tea and coffee if boiled water has been used
  • beer, wine and other alcoholic drinks
  • fizzy drinks from sealed cans and bottles
  • pasteurised juices

If you are travelling with a baby or infant who is getting formula milk, you will need to consider how you will make up bottles with safe and sterile water while you are away.

Water Purification

If you are concerned about the safety of your water, you can treat it to make it safe to drink.

  • further information about methods of treating water can be found on the Water Purification page

After travel

If you return home after travel with the following symptoms you should contact your GP and make them aware of your travel history:

  • continuous diarrhoea
  • have blood or mucous in their faeces
  • a high fever
  • severe abdominal pain

Resources

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