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Below are a few tips to guide students in making responsible and safe choices when eating and drinking abroad.
Bring over-the-counter medications for travelers' diarrhea. The Centers for Disease Control offer an informative article on travelers’ diarrhea, with discussion of its causes, symptoms, and preventive measures.
Students should research to see if foods they are allergic to are commonly used in their host culture, such as peanuts in Senegal and cooking with peanut oil in China. Know how to convey allergies to a faculty leader, on-site staff, cooks in restaurants, and anyone serving food in the local language. It is a good practice to have allergies written on a card in the local language that can be given to the person cooking. The Frommers website has good information on how best to communicate about allergies.
Students with celiac disease or gluten intolerance should research how gluten-free friendly their destination is. Students carrying an EpiPen or insulin should inform on-site staff.
Food, water, and restaurant cleanliness
- Avoid raw and undercooked meat and seafood.
- Avoid raw vegetables in markets. This food is exposed to the elements, which includes dust, bugs, and people sneezing. Raw vegetables may have been grown with chemical pesticides and cleaned in contaminated water. Food that is boiled or fried is less likely to have germs. If you purchase vegetables, take them home to wash with boiled, clean water rather than eating them unwashed at the market.
- Avoid pre-cut fruit or fruit without a rind. Peel the fruit and wash raw vegetables in non-contaminated water. It’s not always clear what pesticides other countries use on their agricultural products.
- Avoid ice or water from a tap. Ice is often made from tap water, so it’s best avoided.
- When buying bottled water, make sure the seal has not been broken. Alternatively, boil your own water, cool the water down, and carry it along when going out. Or drink water that has been boiled, such as tea.
In general, avoid eating foods or drinking beverages purchased from street vendors and other establishments where unhygienic conditions could be present. Students should be extra careful if they are only going to be in a location for a short-term program, since their stomach will not have time to adjust.
Students compelled to eat at street vendors should ask their knowledgeable friends and on-site staff for advice first.
Become a veteran of eating street food with people who know which are the best stalls. Go where the locals go. If there’s a long line, it’s less likely that many diners get sick there. The food is probably better anyway.