Unfortunately we have all been there, you are giddy with the excitement of a new country, the sights, the sounds, not to mention the food.
Then it suddenly hits you. You’re not sure if it was the food you had from that street vendor or the water you drank during your hike, all you know is you are likely to become well acquainted with your toilet while you suffer through food poisoning.
What causes food poisoning?
Bacteria, viruses, parasites and prions found in ill-prepared food are the main causes of food poisoning or food borne illnesses. These microorganisms live inside untreated water, such as streams and lakes, as well as raw meat and fruits with broken skins. Food-borne viruses and bacteria caused some 582 million cases of intestinal infection and 351,000 deaths a year.
Food that has been prepared in unsanitary conditions, not cooked thoroughly or being kept at unsafe temperatures for prolonged periods of time are breeding grounds for these illnesses and once ingested they can cause, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. Not ideal during your big trip abroad.
How to prevent food borne illnesses
The World Health Organisation (WHO) have released a five-point plan for preventing food borne illnesses:
- Choose safe water and food, if you are unsure about it walk away.
- Cook food thoroughly, make sure all parts reach 70°C and maintained at this heat.
- Keep food at safe temperatures, cooked food held at room temperature for a long time is a risk. Food should not be kept between 5°C – 60°C
- Wash your hands often and always before handling and eating food.
- Raw and cooked food must be prepared separately if you need to use the same appliance for each wash between uses.
Following theses rule are key to staying safe and avoiding food borne illnesses.
A number of vaccinations to prevent food borne illnesses are currently being tested, including those for Norovirus as well as Shigella and enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC). The vaccine for rotavirus is already being widely distributed and is on WHO’s recommended vaccines list, one shot will last up to a whole year.
Research suggests that vaccines produce immediate, cost-effective results and can build immunity in a population that suffers from a lack of health and safety procedures.
One of the most difficult issues faced by global health organisations is trying to convey the importance of these vaccinations, particularly in western countries where these diseases are rare. However, with the increase the number of people moving abroad for longer periods of time, these vaccinations take on an even more vital role.
The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that the norovirus vaccine could reduce between 1 million and 2.2 million cases in the United States each year. If more people had received this vaccine over the last 2 years, it could have saved the US government up to $2.1 billion in treatment costs.
It is a good idea to find out if your doctor recommends any vaccinations to avoid food borne illnesses if you are planning to live in a country with lower food hygiene levels.