First, the stomach cramps hit. Then you’re tightly clenching your butt cheeks while searching for the closest restroom. And hoping and praying that you make it in time.
It sucks, right?
And that’s a less severe case!
My worst case of food poisoning included three days of sitting on the toilet while simultaneously puking into a trashcan. Now, even the smell of anything resembling tacos with bbq sauce sends my stomach into dry heaves.
And while I hate food poisoning at any time, when you’re traveling it’s even worse. Not only can it ruin your trip but you’re stuck in a strange place, not feeling well.
So when David and I landed in Morocco and saw the sanitary conditions, we were worried about food poisoning. Cleanliness and food handling are very different in Morocco than they are in the Western world.
We often saw the waitstaff or a cook grab plates from the tables, scrape them off and replate immediately for the next customer. Or go from cutting raw meat to handling cooked food. OR scratching his balls multiple times, then continuing food preparation.
Even buying food was an adventure. Meat hangs out front the shop all day in the full sun. Then there are the meat vendors! They take orders, cut up meat, wrap it, take your money and give you change, without pausing to wipe their hands much less wash them.
It was a real eye-opening experience. We soon realized you really can do with less sanitation than we’re used to, without getting sick or dying. We’re still trying to decide if that’s good knowledge or bad. It is realistic.
What we do know is that we only ended up with a very mild case of food poisoning from one restaurant in Morocco. AND that all our severe cases of food poisoning happened right here at home in the good ole’ USA.
The reality is, if you’re gonna eat, food poisoning is a risk anywhere. And we’re gonna eat! So the only thing to do is use a little common sense to help avoid food poisoning whether you’re traveling or at home.
What is Food Poisoning?
How do you know you’re infected with food poisoning?
It’s usually not too hard to tell if you have food poisoning. Most food poisoning symptoms start presenting within an hour of eating contaminated food. But some may take days to show up.
First, you may feel stomach cramps and/or nausea followed by diarrhea and/or vomiting. Or you just lose your appetite or develop a slight fever. The severity depends on how much you ate, the toxicity level of the toxin, and how it reacts with your body.
Other symptoms can present as well, depending on what type of toxin.
Should you take food poisoning seriously?
While food poisoning won’t kill most people, you can still become severely dehydrated, which leads to other issues.
And there’s no fast food poisoning cure. It has to run its course.
BUT you can drink plenty of liquids and help your system flush faster. Which of course, will also help keep your threat of dehydration down as well.
And if you have severe symptoms or your symptoms last for days get to your doctor IMMEDIATELY.
How to Avoid Food Poisoning
While there’s no way to completely avoid food poisoning, there are ways to help reduce your risk. ALWAYS use your common sense. If something looks completely unfit to eat, don’t do it. I don’t care who double dogged dared you! Now, here are the rest of our tips for helping to avoid food poisoning.
#1. Wash your hands!
#2. If a restaurant looks overly unclean, don’t eat there.
#3. Avoid undercooked meat. Have it cooked to done and then a little bit more.
Many people also say to avoid eating salad. Salads are one of the most common sources of food poisoning in any restaurant, anywhere in the world. Personally, I like my veggies and take the risk anyway. I just make a decision based on the individual restaurant and what I see before ordering a salad.
Eat Where the Locals Eat
Avoid the tourist areas like the plague.
For some reason, we’ve had more issues with food poisoning eating in tourist restaurants than eating where the locals eat.
Pick crowded restaurants. Eat at local meal times. This ensures you get freshly made food that’s not sitting around growing bacteria.
Look around and order what everyone else is ordering. Again, the food will be fresher.
Another bonus to eating where the locals eat is the food tastes better, is more authentic and cheaper. Don’t worry if you don’t know the language. Pointing works well or use Google translate to help you order. There’s no shame in either.
Cook Your Food
Preparing your own food is an excellent option for avoiding food poisoning.
Because you get to decide where to buy your food. And you can use sanitary kitchen practices when you handle it and cook it.
If you can, buy directly from the farmers. It means the food is dealt with less, thus equaling less exposure to bacteria.
Some suggest using a particular fruit and veggie wash.
Fruit and Veggie Wash Recipe: 1 part white vinegar to 3 parts water. Let fruits and veggies soak for one hour.
I don’t. I use tap water and a rough kitchen scrub pad.
We also don’t follow the rule of only eating what you can peel or crack out of a shell. If we did, we would never experience spinach, lettuce, apples, tomatoes, or strawberries.
So far, we’ve never experienced food poisoning buying locally raised foods directly from the farmers, even in Morocco.
Use a Local Cook
We LOVE using local cooks.
Not only do we get home-cooked meals that are entirely authentic, but we get to help the local economy.
And we enjoy food made by someone happy to show off their cooking skills.
Plus, the meals are cheaper than in a restaurant.
To find a local cook, ask your Airbnb host, or the front desk clerk or the maid at your hotel. Chances are they know someone who would be happy to cook for you.
We usually ask the cook to prepare whatever he or she is making the family that night. That way it doesn’t add a considerable task to their workload.
Do negotiate your price ahead of time.
And don’t forget to compliment the cook on how good the food is. It’s always amazing to see their smiles and watch their faces light up when you appreciate their cooking.
It’s not always the food that gets you.
The water can as well.
If you’re in a country with treated water, you’re probably okay. And we do try to drink more tap water than bottled because plastic bottles are so horrible for the environment.
Unfortunately, the treated water rule doesn’t apply everywhere. You have to do your homework. Morocco has treated water but we were strongly advised, by the locals, to drink bottled water. In this case, we purchased large containers and refilled our reusable bottles.
But if you’re in a place with untreated water or have a sensitive tummy, drink bottled water to help avoid having tummy issues.
I cannot express the healthy benefits of eating yogurt while traveling enough.
Or even in your regular home life.
Yogurt introduces live bacteria to your system that help with digestion and keeping you healthy.
Regularly eating yogurt really helps our tummies. We’ve noticed when we skip it, our tummy issues go up, especially when traveling.
Just try to avoid the ones loaded with sugar. While still good for you and better than not eating any yogurt, the extra sugar isn’t healthy for the body.
We’ve only had a couple of mild cases of food poisoning in last three years. We attribute it all to following these simple tips. I wish we could say all but if you’re going to eat, a little food poisoning is part of life. But you can reduce your risks by being smart.
Happy travels and Bon Appetit!