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Food and water abroad - Healthy body

Many illnesses are contracted through contaminated food and water.

Reduce your risk of diseases like travellers' diarrhoea by following these basic guidelines.

Drinking water

In countries with poor sanitation, do not drink tap water or use it to brush your teeth unless it's been treated.

Instead, use filtered, bottled, boiled or chemically treated water.

Bottled fizzy drinks with an intact seal are usually safe, as are hot drinks made with boiled water. Avoid ice in drinks.

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

Chemical disinfectants, such as chlorine dioxide, will usually kill bacteria and viruses. You can buy these from larger pharmacies or specialist travel shops.

However, some parasites are not killed with chlorine preparations.

Combining chlorine preparations with filtration using a specialist water filter from a travel shop should be effective.

Domestic water filters designed for use in the UK may not be suitable for filtering water when you travel. Check with the water filter retailer.

Foods to avoid

Foods to avoid in countries where sanitation is poor include:

  • salads, such as lettuce
  • uncooked fruits and vegetables, unless they've been washed in safe water and peeled by the traveller
  • fresh or cooked food that's been allowed to stand at room temperature in warm environments or 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's 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 food.

As a rule, only eat freshly prepared food that's thoroughly cooked and served steaming hot.

Always wash your hands after going to the toilet and before preparing or eating food.

For information about sanitation levels in the country you're travelling to, visit TravelHealthPro.

Page last reviewed: 1 May 2019
Next review due: 1 May 2022