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Food and water abroad

Many illnesses are contracted through contaminated food and water.

Reduce your risk of diseases like travellers' diarrhoea by following these basic guidelines.

Drinking water

In countries with poor sanitation, don't drink tap water or use it to brush your teeth unless it has been treated.

Filtered, bottled, boiled or chemically treated water should be used. Bottled fizzy drinks with an intact seal are usually safe, as are boiled water and hot drinks made with boiled water. Ice in drinks should be avoided.

The most reliable way to purify water is by boiling it, but this is not always possible.

Chemical disinfectants, such as iodine and chlorine, will usually kill bacteria and viruses, and can easily be obtained from larger pharmacies or specialist travel shops.

However, some parasites are not reliably killed with iodine or chlorine preparations.

Combining iodine or chlorine with filtration using a specialist filter bought from a travel shop should be effective.

Domestic water filters designed for use in the UK are not suitable.

Foods to avoid

Foods to avoid in countries where sanitation is poor:

  • salads, such as lettuce
  • uncooked fruits and vegetables, unless they have been washed in safe water and peeled by the traveller
  • fresh or cooked food that has been allowed to stand at room temperature in warm environments or exposed to flies, such as in an open buffet
  • unpasteurised milk, cheese, ice cream and other dairy products
  • raw or undercooked shellfish or seafood
  • food from street traders, unless it is has been recently prepared and is served hot on clean crockery

Food served in good-standard hotels or restaurants may not always be safe as it may have been contaminated during preparation.

Try to pick places to eat that have a reputation for serving safe food.

As a rule, only eat freshly prepared food that is thoroughly cooked and served steaming hot.

Always wash your hands after going to the toilet and before preparing or eating food.

  • For information about sanitation levels in the country you're travelling to, visit TravelHealthPro.

Article provided by NHS Choices

See original on NHS Choices

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