Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Just Say “No!” to Food-Borne Illness

This is the latest post by April Davis, our resident expert on travel nutrition for our Student Ambassadors. Here she is, washing her hands, as we all should!

One of the most gratifying experiences students can partake in when traveling to foreign countries is enjoying the variety of foods and culture they offer. Eating new and different foods is an important part of the learning experience when traveling with People to People Student Ambassador Programs.

However, eating in a foreign country can lead to a very unpleasant experience if unwelcome organisms are present in the food. People to People Student Ambassador Programs take every precaution to prevent food-borne illness and rely on our worldwide partners to choose local restaurants and hotels that serve not only nutritious and authentic cultural foods, but foods that are safe to eat.

Thus, the concern of contracting a food-borne illness is minimal-to-none at these establishments. However, there are many precautions Student Ambassadors can take to reduce the risk of food-borne illness during free time. One of the best ways to prevent illness is to avoid eating foods sold by street vendors. We cannot guarantee this food is safe.

What are the causes and symptoms of food-borne illnesses?
Most illnesses come from bacteria, viruses, parasites, and chemicals that contaminate food or water. Bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Shigella are the main offenders of food-borne illness. Some parasites can cause acute diarrhea that may persist for weeks after returning home.

Symptoms of food-borne illness include:
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dehydration
Avoid the culprits.
It is important to remind your student that food-borne illness is preventable. The risk of illness will depend on the quality and cleanliness of the food and water consumed and the use of good personal hygiene practices. Certain foods are more likely to contain undesired organisms. Therefore, they are more risky to consume.

The Good:
  • Fruits & veggies that can be peeled or have been washed with clean water.
  • Foods that are thoroughly cooked and served hot. Cold foods that are kept cold.
  • Baked goods, such as bread, muffins, and crackers.
  • Bottled water. Canned, bottled or pasteurized juice.
The Bad:
  • Unwashed, raw fruits & veggies purchased from street vendors.
  • Food from an unclean establishment or person (be sure to wash YOUR hands, too).
  • Foods not held at safe temperatures.
  • Undercooked meat, poultry, pork, or seafood.

The Ugly:
  • Raw red meat, poultry, pork, seafood, or eggs.
  • Unpasteurized dairy products.
  • Leftovers that have been sitting at room temperature.
  • Tap water in countries with unsafe drinking water.
Be smart about what you eat!
The table above indicates some of the things your children can do to reduce the risk of becoming sick while traveling. Enjoy the culture and different types of food while keeping these guidelines in mind. If your child is ever unsure about eating a food, they should use common sense and keep risks to a minimum. A wise person once said: "It is always better to throw out than to throw up!"

By April D. Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES®

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