(Lady cooking fresh Ban Xeo from the street of Mui Ne, Vietnam and it’s awesome!)
Eating street food is the most common way to get to know local cuisines when traveling, it is also the cheapest and the most authentic way to do as locals eat those street food as well. Although the risk of eating street foods are also high especially when food is not properly handled.
Speaking of food handling, coming from a food business background and a discount traveler doing an extreme budget traveling (according to my friends, it’s extreme!) I thought I could share a little bit of tips on how to avoid food poisoning.
Not all street food are poorly handled, there are factors that make the risks higher than the others like:
- Ingredients (Food Preparation) – Different ingredients have different chemical reactions to the other ingredients in the dish which of course makes it tastes better most of the time. However, each ingredient can affect the shelf life of a dish. This is where Food Handling comes in play to avoid the risk of food poisoning. (E.g. ground meat, tomatoes, dairy products, etc.)
- Food Handling – This is the most complicated part of the food, proper handling. As the ingredients reacted chemically altogether to create one yummy dish, each has its own effect and the cooking procedure also should be taken consideration for this. How to handle high risk dishes is a big factor to avoid the bacteria forming in it that will cause food poisoning. That being said, once its prepared you food handler should carefully look into:
- Sanitation – Make sure everything is clean and dry where you put the food in and where you store it, also the tools you will use to serve it like the serving spoon and the plate should always be clean and uncontaminated to avoid germs and bacteria growing on the food.
- Food Temperature – Like I mentioned on the ingredients, they react differently to each other and temperature will also play the role to avoid or contribute risks in contamination resulting to a food poison. Raw meats like in sushi and sashimi, dairy based dishes, with fresh tomatoes, cream etc., should maintain a cooler temperature storage. These are low shelf life food that people, not only food handlers but eaters consider when trying out new dishes.
- Climate – The climate of the place should be considered simply because the food temperature aspect mentioned above. Storing it in the recommended temperature is one thing, but trying to get a take away food to bring on your 14 hour bus ride with high risk ingredients is probably not a smart idea especially if you are in a tropical country.
- Shelf Life – There is a maximum shelf life for every dish no matter how delicious it looks for food safety (I would not bore you with a semester lesson I learned from school about it). Most food shows if it looks old or freshly cooked by looking at it, but if you have no idea judging it from the look of it you might want to read more of this post.
Those are just some of the quick helpful factors to consider when looking for a safe street food. I understand if you don’t want to be a food geek or appear too picky while trying to save your gut and health traveling, don’t worry I might have a few easy tips to avoid the hassle.
EATING STREET FOOD – HOW TO AVOID FOOD POISONING
Choose Food Cooked On The Spot – Most small restaurants does it and there are also street vendors that does it which I think is safer. This is my most favorite trick to do when traveling and I said, “COOKED ON THE SPOT” and not just assembled on the spot. The heat of the fire would at least help kill the bacteria in it.
Avoid Exposed Street Food – Although some may appear appetizing, you might want to avoid it if it’s sitting under the heat without a cover, but if you could not resist it, you might want to ask them to reheat it for you. Otherwise, make sure you’re ready for your gut’s revolution if you’re anti-bodies are not enough to fight it.
Drink Pro-Biotics – When I’m unsure if I’ve eaten something suspiciously unsafe I always take a refuge in drinking one before the day ends. The live good bacteria might help fighting the bad ones ones I got from the last meal.
Buy Packed Goods – I am not suggesting to this everyday but when in a considerably risky areas, this might save your gut. Especially traveling on a long bus ride, I get my stuff from convenience store like biscuits, bottled water, candies, chips, easy open canned goods, and other easy goods to survive during the trip.
It doesn’t mean I haven’t been sick on the road for eating street food, but simply because I ignored the facts I learned from school and life long facts from my family’s food business background. My brother is smarter, refusing to eat a street fried chicken in Southeast Asia when the vendor grabbed it with her bare hands! Oh well, those are part of traveling these aren’t 100% guarantee that you would not get sick, but think about it, it is street food! It may be handled relatively clean but the exposure to the environment can also be a risk.
If you really don’t want to get sick then avoid street food at all times, or getting travel insurance isn’t bad in this kind of situation in case you need to see a doctor while you’re overseas.