Spring Break is supposed to be about having fun in the sun. Unfortunately, numerous vacations are ruined when an upset stomach or intestinal distress caused by a foodborne illness leads to most of the trip being spent sick in the bathroom or stuck in a hospital bed instead of having fun on a beach or cruise deck. The United States’ Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million Americans get sick from foodborne illness causes by bacteria, viruses and parasites each year. While no time is ever ideal to get sick, I think we can all agree that becoming ill while on a trip is a really unpleasant circumstance.
With this in mind, remember to take precautions regarding what you eat and drink while traveling to avoid your Spring Break being ruined. According to Deidre Schlunegger of the nonprofit, public health organization Stop Foodborne Illness, many Spring Break excursions involve all-inclusive resorts, cruises, and activities where food is provided via buffets and outdoor spreads where if not served properly provide a great environment to cultivate the things that make people sick. Here are Schlunegger’s top food safety tips for people taking a Spring Break cruise or are enjoying a resort stay in the Caribbean, Mexico or a warm weather location within the United States:
- Beware Buffets: Buffets tend to serve large amounts of food over long periods of time increasing the chances that items being provided aren’t kept at consistent, correct temperatures. With everyone also using the same serving utensils the risk of contamination which could result in the spreading of pathogens is troublesome. Stop Foodborne Illness recommends avoiding the buffet when possible and selecting sit-down dining options when available as an alternative. If that is not practical or feasible keep the following tips in mind as you make your way through a buffet line.
- Proper Temperature Matter: Cold foods (salads, cold cuts, dressings) need to stay cold and hot foods (soups, meats, fish) should be hot. Any food that is served at room temperature, and isn’t supposed to be, is within the “danger zone” where illness causing bacteria thrive. Pay close attention to the condition of the food before you eat it and if something seems amiss avoid it.
- One Hour Rule: If you are I warm climate zone, remember the one-hour rule. Any perishable foods that have been sitting out beyond one hour when the temperature is higher than 90° F, is not safe to consume. (It’s 2 hours, if the temperature is below 90° F.)
- Hand Washing: A major source of contamination of foodborne illness is when people prepare and handle it with unclean hands. If you see something that is troublesome, say something. Don’t assume anything. And keep your own actions in mind as well. Make sure to wash your hands before handling and eating any food.
- Peel & Wash: Fresh fruit and vegetables from a buffet can be a great poolside snack, bit don’t forget to thoroughly wash and peel them before eating. If the area’s water happens to be unsafe for tourists to consumer, make sure to use bottle or filtered water. On that note, if the local water supply is of concern also remember to avoid using ice in your beverages.
“Maintaining basic food safety standards, like washing hands, and adding some travel-specific practices is the best way to ensure foodborne illness won’t interrupt a fun getaway,” added Schlunegger. “For more tips on food safety while traveling, take a look at stopfoodborneillness.org.”
For those heading overseas for an international vacation, I’d recommend downloading the CDC’s Can I Eat This? app to a mobile device you are taking along with you. It is FREE and available for both android and iOS devices through Google Play or the App Store. This app could help save you from spending an entire trip in the bathroom because of eating an unwise food selection.
Can I Eat This? allows users select the country they are visiting and through answering a few simple questions it will provide a recommendation about whether what someone is thinking of eating or drinking is safe to consumer. Once the app is downloaded it can be accessed offline with no data connection needed so it is useable when you may not have a phone signal or other internet connection. This is a great way to have some confidence in your dining selections while abroad based upon authoritative recommendations from the CDC.
Also check out the CDC website’s Food & Water Safety Tips for Travelers section for more useful information of what to be aware of during a Spring Break trip. Don’t be afraid of enjoying food during a vacation, just make sure to be smart about what you eat and drink. Being as diligent about eating as the other travel safety precautions you may take is just plain simple being smart. Avoid the curse of Montezuma’s Revenge by being wary of foodborne illnesses while you travel.