Food and water abroad

Many illnesses, including travellers’ diarrhoea, hepatitis A, typhoid and cholera are contracted through contaminated food and water.

Travellers’ diarrhoea is the most common illness contracted abroad, affecting 20-60% of overseas travellers.

In countries where sanitation is poor, you can reduce your risk of such diseases by following these basic guidelines.

Drinking water abroad

In countries with poor sanitation, don't drink tap water or use it to brush your teeth unless it has been treated. For information about sanitation levels in the country you are travelling to, visit the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NATHNAC).

Filtered, bottled, boiled or chemically treated water should be used.

Bottled fizzy drinks with an intact seal are usually safe, as are boiled water and hot drinks made with boiled water. Ice in drinks should be avoided.

The most reliable way to purify water is by boiling it, but this is not always possible.

Chemical disinfectants, such as iodine and chlorine, will usually kill bacteria and viruses and can easily be obtained from larger chemists or specialist travel shops.

However, some parasites are not reliably killed with iodine or chlorine preparations. Combining iodine or chlorine with filtration using a specialist filter (bought from a travel shop) should be effective.

Domestic water filters designed for use in the UK are not suitable.

Food abroad

Some developing countries use animal waste as fertiliser. Certain foods, especially those growing close to the ground, are particularly prone to contamination and should be avoided.

Foods to avoid

  • salads, such as lettuce
  • uncooked fruits and vegetables, unless they have been washed in safe water and peeled by the traveller
  • fresh or cooked food that has be allowed to stand at room temperature in warm environments, or that has been exposed to flies, such as in an open buffet
  • unpasteurised milk, cheese, ice cream and other dairy products
  • raw or undercooked shellfish or seafood
  • food from street traders, unless it is has been recently prepared and is served hot on clean crockery

Food served in good-standard hotels or restaurants may not always be safe as it may have been contaminated during preparation. Try to pick places to eat that have a reputation for serving safe foods.

As a rule, only eat freshly prepared food that is thoroughly cooked and served very hot.

Always wash your hands after going to the toilet and before preparing or eating food. See Health A-Z: preventing food poisoning for more information about food hygiene.

Travel health

A simple guide to health precautions when travelling abroad, including vaccinations, taking condoms and a first aid kit, and being careful about drinking water.

Media last reviewed: 09/07/2015

Next review due: 09/07/2017

Page last reviewed: 26/05/2014

Next review due: 26/05/2016


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