How To Avoid Food Poisoning

Antigua Guatemala Local Market Steak Tacos

I went to Guatemala, and I got food poisoning.

The twist? I got food poisoning the day after I returned home to Chicago when I cooked chicken for myself. This steak taco from the local Antigua food market? A little chewy, but my stomach was fine.

The irony is that I’m a worrywart traveler. I’m nervous about getting lost, getting scammed and — you guessed it — getting sick when I travel. So even though I didn’t need the advice in Guatemala, I thought I’d share the tips I researched on how to avoid food-borne illness (or traveler’s diarrhea):

  1. “Boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it”
    The quick answer from the World Health Organization and Mayo Clinic is: boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it. Raw food is risky, because you don’t know what germs it may have. So boiling or cooking it, or only eating the inside are key ways to protect your stomach.
  2. Be street smart
    Some people will tell you to avoid street food altogether. This may be controversial, but I actually like to try food from street vendors occasionally. It’s part of the food experience in travel! Here are the conditions when I’ll give it a try:

    • Raw food must be completely separate from cooked food. In Antigua, I skipped the vendors who had raw fish hanging above the cooked food.
    • Try small bites. In Guatemala I only ate a snack, rather than a full meal – just in case it bothered my stomach.
    • Make sure other people are eating it too. This isn’t sure-fire, because locals may be accustomed to a different diet. But avoid places where no one else is eating.
  3. Hit the bottle
    Bottled water, that is. Don’t drink tap water and avoid ice in drinks. I also recommend drinking lots of bottled water to stay hydrated. The only time I used tap water was to brush my teeth, but I was careful to always spit it out.
  4. Check for shots
    I prepare for trips by reading up on recommended vaccinations and checking with my doctor. The State Department has a good summary to get you started, and vaccinations are a good way to prevent illnesses like typhoid.

It’s important to remember that food poisoning and stomach issues can happen anywhere… even in my little Chicago apartment! Take precautions when you travel, but keep it in perspective and don’t let it keep you from enjoying every bite of the journey.

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