Food regulations and food sanitation are important all the time, but with vacation season approaching it’s even more important to recognize that food sanitation is not only important, but can be crucial to your health.

If you’ve spent months preparing for just the perfect getaway, then the last thing you want to do is to become ill while you should be out enjoying your holiday. Both food and water safety is important. In the United States where food safety and hygiene are addressed regularly—in other countries this may not be so.

Many diseases travel through the water.
foodsanitation One of the most common of these is cholera. The disease germs are actually passed through a victim’s excrement. However, it’s historically easy for this to find its way into a water supply. Until modern times in developed countries, water wasn’t safely treated. Cholera is still a periodic threat in developing countries from South America to Asia. It’s the primary but not only reason travelers are told, "Don’t drink the water."

In 1976 was the first known human infection by Cryptosporidium, a parasitic protozoan germ most commonly found in surface water. It can cause severe gastroenteritis. In 1993 it got to the city of Milwaukee Wisconsin. About four hundred thousand people came down with severe diarrhea and stomach pain. One hundred people died from it. Other infections in the U.S. water supply followed, leading the federal government to announce in 1998 a special $800 million water treatment program.

Cryptosporidium is a hardy bacteria that survives the hyper chlorination of many American city water supplies. However, boiling water for at least one minute will kill it.

If you travel to an area with an unreliable water supply, drink and brush your teeth with only bottled water. Some bottled water may be unsafe, but is unlikely to carry diseases such as cholera and cryptosporidium.

Food can also carry microbes. The Shiga toxin strain of E. coli is one of these. Hepatitis A is another, though the problem with that one is usually that a restaurant worker didn’t properly water their hands after having a bowel movement, and the virus traveled from their hands to the food and then to customers. It’s why some restaurants now require their employees to get a Hepatitis A vaccination.

We know we should keep our food cold to discourage the reproduction of microbes, but the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, the cause of listeriosis food poisoning, or listeria, thrives in refrigerated foods. It’s most often found in ready made food such as cold cuts and potato salad.

All meat should be well-cooked, to kill possible parasites such as trichinosis in pork, and to neutralize poisons in plants. Yes, this means that to properly protect yourself, you should not eat ceviche and sushi, no matter how trendy they are. It’s not trendy (yet), but Lao people traditionally eat their national food, lahp, with raw beef. Lao people and Vietnamese also eat raw duck meat and blood, and this is now officially discouraged in Vietnam, because it transmitted at least one case of bird flu in that country.

Sushi can carry the worm Anisakis that is found in different kinds of fish. Anisakis can cause severe intestinal and gastric disturbance or an allergic reaction. Why don’t the Japanese suffer from this? They do — about 2,000 cases a year. There’re about 50 cases a year in the United States, but this is bound to increase as the popularity of sushi bars goes up.

Also, keep knives, cutting boards and other food preparation instruments clean and sanitized. After cutting fish, chicken or meat, run some bleach over the cutting board.

Of course, thoroughly wash everything, especially fruits and vegetables that grew close to the ground. You can also add one part white vinegar to three parts water to make yourself a fruit/veggie wash. Rinse the produce with clean water and then enjoy.

When traveling, eat only food that’s been well-cooked. Avoid produce in certain areas. You may also have to boil tap water before using depending upon the area that you’re visiting. Sometimes ice is a source of contaminants, so it’s best to have bottled drinks with no ice.   If you are going to have fruits or vegetables, it’s much safer to eat those which can be peeled.

Restaurants outside the developed world do not meet the sanitation standards you’re used to, so it’s important to choose carefully before selecting a restaurant.  You are usually safer for meals using locations such as top quality hotel restaurants that are well known and avoiding roadside vendors or locations where the refrigeration and sanitary conditions could be questionable.

Going on a vacation should be relaxing. So the next time before packing your bags for a trip, take some time to prepare a plan for how you can eat out and enjoy yourself, while staying healthy. Food sanitation is essential all the time, but especially when you’re away from home, it’s important to know how you can minimize your risk of food poisoning so that your leisure activities are peaceful and stress free.