Travel Health: Surviving Street Food


Food from street vendors can be delicious—but don’t let them make you sick.

Whether you’re visiting Bangkok or Austin, the best food often comes from street vendors. Yet some carts and vendors are safer than others. In Portland, Oregon—often called the food-cart capital of the U.S.—food-borne illnesses are rare: The city health department inspects mobile restaurants twice a year. But Daniel Caplivski, M.D., director of the travel medicine clinic at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, warns that adventurous eaters need to exercise more caution when traveling abroad.

SEE A TRAVEL DOC

Before your trip, Dr. Caplivski recommends that you see a travel medicine specialist for the necessary vaccines and drugs* for the country you’re visiting. A physician will know if you need the typhoid vaccine, and might prescribe antibiotics to take with you, such as Cipro. To find a travel clinic, consult the International Society of Travel Medicine (istm.org).

BUY FROM BUSY STANDS

“If locals are eating there and the food looks fresh, it’s probably safe for you to eat there,” says Andy Ricker, a chef who travels regularly to Southeast Asia on research trips for his Portland restaurant, Pok Pok. And, of course, the stands with the longest lines tend to have the yummiest food.

GET FOOD COOKED THROUGH

Well-done food is less likely to make you sick. In developing countries, avoid salads and raw vegetables, which might have been washed in contaminated water. And peel fruit yourself, in case the vendor hasn’t washed his or her hands.

LOOK FOR INSPECTION STICKERS

Thailand’s health department gives out “Clean Food, Good Taste” signs to vendors who meet hygiene levels. Only a third of the awardees get inspected twice a year, but these vendors (and restaurants) are a safer bet.

DON’T DRINK THE WATER

Obviously, tap water and ice cubes aren’t safe in developing countries. Be sure bottled water is sealed; vendors have been known to refill plastic bottles with tap water.

PACK A PROBIOTIC

Dr. Caplivski recommends you carry something like FloraStor* (sold at most drugstores) to help repopulate your gastro-intestinal tract with good bacteria. It can also be taken preventively before a trip. Ricker eats the local yogurt when in a new place, to expose himself to local bacteria—of the good variety.

*Consult your physician before taking any medication or probiotic, and use all medications and probiotics as directed.

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