5 Safety Tips When Eating Exotic Foods
It's said you can't really know a country or its people until you try the food. The flavor of an exotic new food can be a memorable part of your journey, but don't let it be memorable for the wrong reason.
1. Know the Rules
Food safety regulations vary from country to country, and sometimes within different regions of the same country. Before you go, get familiar with any licensing or regulation requirements at your destination. A few questions to answer: How well are they enforced? Are there regular inspections or is bribery rampant? Are there visible stickers or licenses displayed at regulated establishments? Don't think that regulations are only present in developed countries. Many developing countries also have strict regulations. For example, the street vendors of Ghana take safety workshops that ensure their exotic delights are safe to consume.
2. Check the Obvious
It's easy to overlook the obvious when dining at home, but abroad keep your eye out for tell-tale signs that all may not be well. If the cooks and servers are wearing clean clothing, have their hair pulled up or covered, and are wearing gloves or have clean hands and nails, chances are they know and are following basic food safety rules. A clean chef doesn't guarantee safe food. Make sure the establishment, even if it's just a street vendor's cart, also looks clean and well-cared for.
3. Cooked Is Best
Food heated to over 140 degrees Fahrenheit is generally safe to eat because the heat kills off any nasties that could be lurking. That innocuous salad is more likely to make you ill than the identifiable but fully cooked meat dish. Even cooked dishes may include raw ingredients – especially in the sauce, topping or garnish. A raw egg, a few fresh herbs or even unpasteurized cream could give you a bad case of traveler's belly.
4. Hidden Water Dangers
You likely know to avoid drinking the water in some countries, but water-borne bacteria could also be hiding in your food. Often, the locals aren't a good guide for safe water because they are accustomed to the local bacteria, so they won't get ill. Raw vegetables washed in contaminated water, or even the ice cubes in your drink could spell disaster. When in doubt, skip both the salad AND the ice.
5. What Not to Eat
There are a few things you shouldn't eat, whether it's a 5-star establishment in Tokyo, or from a street vendor in Mexico City. Raw shellfish is a no-go, and you may want to skip it entirely if the local waterways are questionable. Avoid pork outside of developed countries, and never eat a raw or undercooked egg. Organ meats, cheese, and yogurts can harbor danger, as well.
When in doubt, look for a crowd. Chances are, a busy establishment isn't in the habit of making diners sick. Don't be afraid to try out the local delicacies, but don't throw caution to the wind.