The summer holidays are nearly here and hundreds of thousands of Brits will shortly (or may have been lucky enough to have already done so) travel abroad to enjoy a well earned break. Whilst the majority will stay safe and well and return tanned, and refreshed, sadly some will have their holiday ruined by illness on holiday caused by food poisoning.
What is food poisoning?
Food poisoning (food borne illness) is any illness caused by eating food containing bacteria, parasites, viruses or toxins. The food becomes contaminated when the germs get into the food.
The most commonly known food borne illnesses are :
- E Coli
Symptoms of food poisoning
The symptoms of food poisoning vary in their severity and commonly include at least two or three of the following:
- Abdominal cramps
- Loss of appetite
The onset/incubation period of the symptoms depends on the cause of the food poisoning. The severity and duration of the symptoms can vary from person to person. During this time it is essential that you stay hydrated by drinking (safe) fluids. Rehydration sachets are also helpful if they are available.
If your symptoms worsen or do not ease over a few days medical attention should be sought. It is advisable for vulnerable people such as the very young or old or those suffering from a serious medical condition to seek early medical attention. Unfortunately, it is possible for food poisoning to lead to more serious complication and conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Reactive Arthritis.
Causes of food poisoning
Food poisoning is usually caused by the unsafe food hygiene practices of those who prepare or handle the food. Other causes include dirty serving utensils, keeping food that has not been adequately heated (very common at self service type buffets which can be found in most all inclusive resorts), cross contamination between raw and cooked foods, undercooked foods, unpasteurized foods and washing food such as salads in unsafe water.
How to avoid food poisoning whilst on holiday
This is difficult as you are dependent on other people to cook, prepare and service your food. However, the writer (who has experience of suffering food poisoning whilst on holiday abroad) would suggest the following:
Only drink bottled water and avoid ice unless you are sure it is made from bottled water. If in doubt ask. This includes when brushing your teeth and taking a shower (particularly when holidaying in developing countries).
Do not eat food from street vendors no matter how tempting it may look or smell!
When using self service buffets choose food that is cooked in front of you. For example, many all inclusive buffets will have stations where the meat or eggs are cooked as you wait.
Check the cleanliness of restaurants. This does not mean you need to visit upmarket and expensive restaurants but generally the overall cleanliness of the restaurant, including the bathrooms, will give you an indication of their hygiene practices in their kitchens.
Do not eat food that is not hot. Many all inclusive buffets serve food that is not hot enough and in many cases only just warm.
If you think that something looks undercooked don’t eat it. Remember proper cooking kills bacteria.
Don’t eat food if it has been exposed to flies, insects or birds (again common in all inclusive resorts).
Do not stand in front of sprinklers to cool down (children love doing this!). Some hotels recycle the effluent water through the garden sprinklers to save on the cost of having the sewage taken away and water charges.
What should I do if I suffer food poisoning whilst on holiday?
Report your illness to the relevant person. This should include the hotel manager, your holiday representative and your tour operator.
Keep a note of when your symptoms started and where you had eaten prior to their onset. If you are aware of fellow guests/travellers suffering from similar symptoms ask for their contact details and encourage them to report their illness if they have not already done so.
Take photographs of any undercooked food or poor hygiene practices.
Visit your GP when you return home.
If you are considering taking legal action speak to a solicitor who can advise you properly. The law and science surrounding a claim for compensation are not as straightforward as you might think. Travel companies are taking a more robust stance in dealing with these types of claims.
Whilst many of us don’t like ‘making a fuss’ the writer would urge all those who have suffered from food poisoning whilst on holiday to report it. Food poisoning can be easily prevented and it is hoped that the tour operators will put pressure on the hotels to improve their hygiene practices.