Every year food poisoning affects many thousands of people on holiday around the world. Those affected may experience a varying assortment of symptoms ranging in severity from mild to severe, with more serious cases causing death.
There are many possible causes of food poisoning including bacteria, chemicals or toxins, however some foods are more likely to increase the risk of contracting a food borne illness than others because these foods are more at risk of bacterial growth. If these high risk foods have not been cooked at a particular temperature or have failed to be stored and handled correctly, the risk of illness is greater.
A food borne illness can take days or even weeks to develop, making it difficult to identify the cause of the sickness, however by knowing which foods increase the risk of illness can assist to minimize the risk for travelers on an overseas vacation.
Did you know food poisoning has been cited as the number on cause of holiday sickness? In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) compiled and issued a report on food borne illness which concluded that over 550 million people a year develop a diarrheal illness.
When on holiday most travelers will of course be unfamiliar with the hygiene standards of many restaurant kitchens, food carts and cafe's that are visited making it can be difficult to know if food has been reheated, stored at the right temperature or left exposed for pests or vermin to contaminate.
What Types Of Organisms Cause Food Poisoning?
From the WHO global report the infective agents that cause diarrhea include 5 types of bacteria, 1 virus, 3 protozoa and 10 parasitic worms. While the causes can vary between countries, some of the most common causes include:
- Bacteria: Campylobacter, Eshcerichia Coli, Salmonella, Listeria
- Viruses: Norovirus, Norwalk virus
- Protozoa: Giardia, cryptosporidium, amoeba
Symptoms Of Food Bourne Illnesses:
- Muscle Aches
- Abdominal Pain
- Loss of Appetite
- Raised Temperature
What Can Be Done To Reduce The Risk?
- Avoid food that has been reheated.
- Avoid salads and uncooked fruit and vegetables.
- Avoid food that has not been cooked thoroughly.
- Avoid food that has not been hygienically prepared.
- Avoid food that has not been stored at the right temperature.
- Avoid food left exposed to pests including insects, vermin and birds.
- Avoid drinks with ice and know if the local tap water is fit for human consumption.
- Always wash your hands frequently before and after meal times and after using bathroom. If tap water is unavailable use an alcohol based hand gel.
Food poisoning is caused by eating contaminated food, and there are many forms of food poisoning so its important to take steps to prevent this illness when on holiday in order to avoid cutting short that much needed vacation.
Raw and undercooked poultry places holiday makers at extreme risk of contracting food poisoning, particularly if it has not handled properly. The two most common contaminants linked to poultry include campylobacter bacteria and salmonella, as even consuming small amounts can make a person very ill.
These bacteria often contaminate the raw meat once its been initially processed, and can survive until cooking (at the right temperature) kills them. Although these bacteria do live on raw poultry product, there are a number of ways to lower the risk of exposure by ensuring the poultry is thoroughly cooked before consuming, as this process kills off the harmful bacteria.
Eggs are a versatile, nutritious and tasty protein which feature in cuisine from round the world, however eggs are considered to be a high risk food when it comes to food poisoning specifically when raw or undercooked.
It's the salmonella in eggs which has been deemed responsible for many food borne illness cases as the bacteria can contaminate either the yolk, the white or the egg shell. More often than not a contaminated egg will not look, smell or taste any different than an uncontaminated one making it almost impossible to detect.
Many meals offered around the world include lightly cooked, or raw eggs and consequently have a high risk of causing food borne illness. It is recommended that travelers only consume eggs when they are fully cooked and avoid food that purposely contain undercooked eggs such as mayonnaises and salad dressings.
Vulnerable travelers including including children, elderly and pregnant women together with anyone suffering from an illness that weakens the immune system, should take note of this advice.
The farming environment of fruit and vegetables are considered to be a major factor in the potential for contamination, as these products are often grown in warm, humid conditions, providing the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Always thoroughly wash fruit before consuming to reduce the risk of food poisoning when on holiday.
Many varieties of raw fruit and berries have a high risk of causing food poisoning. Listeria for example can grow on the skins of fruit and vegetables causing food poisoning when consumed. Salmonella has been found responsible for many cases food poisoning outbreaks which have been traced back to berries, hot peppers and tomatoes. Melons are another product which is considered to be a high risk food as they are not often washed before being consumed.
Leafy Greens and Vegetables
Because leafy greens and vegetables are often eaten raw, any harmful contaminants affecting them aren't be killed off as as they would be when cooked. Bacteria such as E. coli reside in the soil the greens are grown in and can easily leave traces on them. Contaminated water and animals can also transfer harmful substances to the food at any time during its transportation to market.
Fruit and vegetables that have been throughly washed under running tap water can potentially make little difference, or in some cases may even increase the risk of contamination in countries where tap water cannot be consumed, and bottled water is recommended but not used locally in restaurants for food rinsing and preparation.
Raw, unpasteurized milk is a milk product which has not been heated to kill the harmful bacteria contained within the raw product. The risk with consuming raw milk is that there is a higher chance of the milk containing bacteria, for example: E. coli, salmonella or listeria. If consumed, these bacteria can cause a range of food poisoning illnesses which vary from mild to life threatening.
Cheese is another food that is considered to be at a high risk of contamination. That's why pregnant women are advised to avoid consuming soft cheeses including feta and ricotta.
Staphylococcus aureus is a common bacteria which can be found in cheese. It can be transferred to the cheese from an infected person that comes into contact with it. These bacteria have a high tolerance for salt, making foods such as cheese and meat the perfect breeding ground, and much like other types of food poisoning staphylococcus aureus is resistant to heat, consequently cooking won't kill it.
A favorite for Vegans, sprouts grown in warm, wet environments, providing the perfect conditions for rapid bacteria growth. Due to the fact that sprouts are often consumed in their raw form they carry a high risk of causing food borne illness particularly from salmonella and E. coli.
If the sprouts are in fact contaminated, it is most likely the contamination is found to be in the seeds of the sprouts, and while there a number of ways to reduce the risk of contamination, sprouts are best avoided when on holiday overseas.
All fish and seafood must be properly stored from the moment of being caught until consumed. There are a number of types of food poisoning which can be acquired after consuming contaminated seafood, however this depends on the type of seafood, whether it has been contaminated with a toxin, bacteria or another harmful substance, coupled with the condition in which the product has been kept in.
Fish stored at the incorrect temperature have a high risk of being contaminated with histamine. Histamine is a toxin that can cause Scombroid poisoning, and unlike many other dangerous contaminants unfortunately it is not destroyed by normal cooking temperatures.
Another common food borne illness which can develop after eating contaminated fish is Ciguatera poisoning, which can occur as a result of a ciguatoxin. As ciguatoxin is heat stable, cooking the fish before eating will not kill off this harmful toxin.
Shellfish also carry a risk of food poisoning as the algae shellfish live in, produce many toxins that can build up to dangerous levels in the environment. The are a number of food borne illnesses these toxins can cause including neurotoxic shellfish poisoning, amnestic shellfish poisoning and paralytic shellfish poisoning.
Cooking the shellfish will not necessarily reduce the toxic risk to safe levels. To safeguard against these heat stable toxins, travelers are often advised to avoid eating seafood in developing countries.
Rice is one of the most eaten foods on the planet and is also considered to be a high risk food when it comes to food poisoning. Rice can become contaminated with bacillus cereus which can initially infect and live in uncooked rice as spores.
Instead of eliminating the spores cooking in fact activates them, making moist cooked rice the perfect breeding ground for harmful bacteria. Failure to properly store cooked rice properly is one of the biggest causes of food borne illnesses in the world.
What Is The Treatment For Food Poisoning?
Oral Re-hydration Therapy
No matter the type or cause of the food poisoning, one of the most important treatments is to ensure the body remains hydrated to replace the excessive salt and water losses that occur. Fluids including water and electrolyte replacements are key to preventing dehydration and worsening of the illness. Food poisoning in the extreme can cause acute kidney injury and result in death.
There are a number of oral re-hydration therapies available, and providing these products contain the correct proportion of sugar and salts, these products provide adequate re-hydration. Oral re-hydration fluids should be dispensed in regular small mouthfuls to prevent stomach distension and reflex vomiting.
Re-hydration products are easily accessed from a nearby pharmacy or drug store, however if you are traveling remotely or in an isolated location, a homemade oral re-hydration liquid can often suffice. The recipe includes 5 cups of sterile (boiled) water, 6 level teaspoons of sugar together with half a teaspoon of salt, which is mixed together until dissolved.
Those suffering a food borne illness should immediately reduce their exposure to foods or drink that can exacerbate diarrhea such as magnesium supplements, antibiotics, sorbitol containing foods and drinks which contain artificial sweeteners. Those afflicted should also avoid alcohol and antibiotics.
Anti-diarrheal Agent Medicines
If the diarrhea persists, medications can be used in adults to reduce the frequency of movements one common product is Loperamide. The drug slows the gut down. Initially, a dosage of 4mg is given to slow the diarrhea down with further doses to be provided if the symptoms persist or return.
If severe cramping or other abdominal pain occurs Hyoscine, found in products such as Buscopan provide an antispasmodic agent which can sometimes assist to reduce the severity of the pain. Be aware though, there are certain conditions where Buscopan cannot be used including those suffering from a range of medical conditions including glaucoma, myasthenia gravis and particular heart arrhythmias.
If diarrhea is ongoing beyond a few days should symptoms fail to improve, then immediate medical attention should be sought. It's well worth noting that those over the age of 50 or the elderly are far more susceptible to the ill effects of severe diarrhea and acute dehydration and as a consequence should seek medical attention sooner.
Travel Insurance And Your Entitlement
In the event that an incidence of food poisoning occurs when on holiday, you may need to receive medical treatment at a local clinic or hospital in the country you are visiting. Depending on which country and the severity of the illness, medical costs may be affordable or alarmingly high.
In severe cases of food poisoning a doctor may recommend a stay in a hospital for a few days or even up to a week. The cost for treatment as an in-patient can in some countries easily add up to thousands of dollars.
When shopping around for travel insurance prior to heading overseas on vacation, consider purchasing a travel medical insurance plan that offers a higher amount of compensation for medical expenses, so in the event you fall ill when far from home, you may have receive a significant reimbursement of lost travel expenses in the event you have to return home for treatment.
Some travel policies only pay partial compensation, meaning you may have to pay a significant portion of your medical bills out of your own pocket. A travel insurance policy does not only provide compensation for medical fees, it can allow you to recover the lost costs of your travel investment. In the event you have to cut short a holiday due to a severe case of food poisoning, it is possible to recover a portion of prepaid travel expenses.