Food poisoning is something that many travelers have had to deal with at one time or another. But you don’t have to be one of them.
Be aware of these food poisoning warning signs and avoid contracting an illness that has the potential to ruin your entire trip.
Food poisoning is an illness that is caused by eating contaminated food. The contamination can happen at many different points throughout the process of getting the food from the source to your table: from how it is stored, handled or prepared. The contamination occurs when a large amount of certain bacteria or their toxins (called pathogens) are present in the food you are eating.
While sometimes even the most health-conscious individuals can fall victim to this unpleasant ailment, here are 7 warning signs to look out for, so arm yourself with this knowledge and stay healthy:
1) Food hanging around in warm temperatures
Food temperatures need to be controlled in order to ward off bacteria growth. Street vendors do not always have proper temperature control devices, such as refrigerators and heating lamps, which puts their food at risk.
If the food you are buying is a cold item, it should remain cold at all times. The same goes for foods that are meant to be kept hot.
If you see a giant pot of soup sitting over an itty-bitty flame, chances are that soup is not over 135°F and could be in the danger zone of temperature, 41°F–135°F (5°C–57°C), according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
If the food temperatures are not properly maintained, the food could be in the danger zone for bacteria growth. Photo by fizaco.
2) No clean water tap
Anyone that handles food should be washing her hands frequently. Hands harbor all kinds of germs and bacteria that can easily be transferred to the food.
If you do not see a clean water source, you have no idea of knowing the last time the vendor washed his/her grubby hands.
Check for a clean water source when buying food from street stands. Photo by Martin Ünsal.
3) No soap in the bathroom
Nobody likes a filthy restroom. It’s true that your food doesn’t spend any time in the bathroom (if it does, run for the hills!) but the people who prepare your food do.
If the restroom that the cooks are using is a bio-hazard, just imagine the bacteria that are festering on the skin of the people touching your food. Do yourself a favor and check if the bathroom has soap. If there isn’t any soap, chances are bacteria-ridden hands are preparing your food.
Does the bathroom look like a bio-hazard? And is there any soap! Photo by Cyril-Rana!!.
4) Dirty kitchen
This one is a no-brainer. If you take a peek into the food-preparation area and you are suddenly not feeling as hungry as before, just get out of there.
Dirty kitchens are a breeding ground for bacteria. Plus, if the staff is unconcerned about the appearance of their work area, they probably aren’t running around with thermometers to make sure your food is safe or using filtered water either.
If this is the kitchen of a restaurant, I’m never going to eat there. Photo by saturnism.
5) Sick or unhygienic workers
If someone handling your food is sick or not clean, the chances of your food being contaminated are much higher. Restaurant managers are very much aware of this and should never allow sick employees near food.
If you see someone sneezing and coughing all over the food, move on to another eatery.
A waiter coughing and spluttering over your food is not a good sign. Photo by maxually.
6) Bare hands touching your dinner
This is a huge problem with street food vendors, as it is less likely that they would be wearing gloves all day long. It’s easy to overlook this seemingly small detail when you see how tasty the food looks, but try to remind yourself of the risks.
Hands are one of the dirtiest parts of our body. Street vendors’ hands have touched countless other hands throughout the day, not to mention their own faces and mouths. Bacteria from their hands can leap right onto that tasty treat you’re about to eat.
Watch for bare hands all over your food. Photo by bookchen.
7) Rats or their droppings
If you see a furry creature scuttling around, get out of there fast. Restaurants should be clean enough as to not attract these critters in the first place, so if you see one, it’s a very bad sign. Not only does that show that the establishment is unclean, but you also have the added risk of the rodents carrying bacteria of their own.
Rats carry all sorts of bacteria that can contaminate your food. Photo by Matthieu Aubry.
In addition to these warning signs you should also be aware of food poisoning symptoms. The symptoms include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, fever, fatigue, chills, muscle aches and dizziness. If you experience some of these symptoms after eating out, get to a doctor to be checked out.
Where did you experience your worst bout of food poisoning. Were there any warning signs? Let me know in the comments below.
If you liked this article, you might also like: The Shocking Truth about Hotel Hygiene.
Main photo: Street food looks tempting but look for warning signs of food poisoning by drburtoni.