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Surviving food poisoning
Food poisoning affects millions of people every year and can strike when least expected. But with some basic hygiene tips and local knowledge, it should be largely avoidable.
How to prevent food poisoning
The causes can vary and food poisoning symptoms can be very unpleasant. However, basic food safety tips should make a big difference, such as washing your hands before eating and checking your cutlery is clean.
So whether you’re opting for a roadside hut or a five-star restaurant, find somewhere that looks busy and order your food wisely.
A high heat will kill most, but not all, germs. So if you’re worried, opt for a well-done steak instead of sushi or oysters.
High-risk foods include raw items such as salad leaves or raw vegetables. In Dubai, most restaurants serve a plate of raw vegetables and leafy greens before any meal, so if you want to be extra cautious, check that they’ve been washed with bottled water before eating.
If you’re looking for something different, such as Thai street food, choose a popular vendor because the turnover of food will be faster. Rice is one of the most prolific causes of food poisoning, so make sure any rice you eat is cooked thoroughly and hasn’t been left sitting at room temperature, or reheated.
If you’re planning a brunch at a restaurant or hotel, you might want to ask how regularly the food is replaced. Even well-cooked food that’s served piping hot can become contaminated if it’s left sitting at room temperature.
Bacteria thrives in hotter climates so it’s important to keep cold foods refrigerated until they’re ready to be eaten, and keep them away from hot dishes. Be especially careful to avoid any hot/cold or raw/cooked contamination in barbecue season, particularly with your meat dishes.
How to drink safely
Liquids can also be one of the causes of food poisoning. When you’re living or travelling somewhere with a questionable water supply, it’s best to stick to bottled, filtered or boiled water. Government websites will give you general advice, but it also depends on the local plumbing system.
In Hong Kong and Dubai the water is considered safe to drink, but only if you’re confident the pipes and tank are cleaned regularly. The tap water in Thailand is not deemed safe.
It’s worth checking whether the ice is from tap or bottled water when you’re ordering a drink, and making sure the seal is intact when buying bottled drinks from street vendors. If you’ve decided the vegetables and salad are safe to consume but the water isn’t, check what water the foods have been washed in.
Recognising food poisoning symptoms
Depending on the organism, you might feel unwell within a matter of hours, or it might take a few days. Travellers’ diarrhoea, vomiting, cramping and fever are all common.
How long does food poisoning last?
It can last up to several days.
Treatment for food poisoning
Stock up on rehydration salts because it’s important to stay hydrated, especially if you experience watery diarrhoea and vomiting. Paracetamol or ibuprofen can ease fevers, aches and pains. However, if taking other medication then always check with your doctor first.
What to eat after food poisoning
Plain foods such as mashed potatoes, bananas, white bread and crackers are good options for when you feel able to eat again.
What if it doesn’t go away?
Rest and rehydration should be enough to see you through a bout of food poisoning, but sometimes medical help is needed. You should see a doctor if your symptoms don’t improve after three days, you can’t retain fluids, or you experience bloody diarrhoea.