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Doctors orders: What not to eat overseas

At Family Travel, we’re pretty adventurous eaters. We often travel with our tastebuds, pillaging local markets and snapping up tasty street food. But we know this sometimes comes with consequences. Bouts of Bali Belly and Moroccan Muddies can’t always be avoided, but there are a few things you can do to reduce your chances of becoming ill overseas. 

To help you prepare for your next (or first) trip abroad, the after-hours doctors at House Call Doctor have put together a go-to guide of foods you shouldn’t eat while travelling overseas.

food to avoid

Street markets showcase incredible local cuisine, but you have to be careful. Photo: Shutterstock

Raw or undercooked meat

Both raw and undercooked meat can pose a serious health risk, even in developed countries. If not cooked properly, there are many food-related illnesses you may have an increased chance of getting, including salmonella.
Even though some bacteria can be killed off by cooking, there are others which remain within the muscle tissue – this is why food safety experts often stress the importance of making sure meats are cooked through properly.

Fish and shellfish

Eating fish and shellfish which isn’t fresh or hasn’t been stored properly can make it very easy to fall sick with shellfish poisoning or seafood poisoning. These illnesses usually cause symptoms including vomiting and diarrhoea, making for an unpleasant holiday and can be very dangerous.

Food to avoid when travelling

Seafood cooked the wrong way (or not cooked at all) can cause problems. Photo: Shutterstock

Certain types of fruit

The general rule when travelling in developing nations is to choose fruits which require peeling (like bananas and oranges) because it’s likely these haven’t been washed in contaminated water. Despite the rule ‘cook it, peel it or forget it’, there are peelable fruits (including watermelon and pineapple) which can still make travellers ill.
This is because these fruits, along with other tropical fruits, easily absorb table water which might be unsanitary, leading to food poisoning.
If you’re opting for a juice, or any cold beverage, say no to ice – the same risks of ingesting contaminated water apply.


Eggs, and foods containing eggs, should often be avoided. In addition to your bacon and eggs, examples of common foods and drinks containing eggs include novelty cocktails and mayonnaise.
Condiments which are left out on tables, particularly in restaurants where sauces are in bowls, should also be avoided – often specific ingredients aren’t listed, they’re not kept cold if required and there’s also no indication of how long they’ve been there and if other people have put dirty hands or cutlery in them.

Unpasteurised dairy

Unpasteurised dairy products including milk, cheese and cream are more likely to cause food-related illness than consuming pasteurized dairy products. According to the Food and Drug Administration, pasteurisation kills listeria, E. coli, salmonella and other harmful bacteria found in dairy products.

food to avoid

Buffet foods with a low turn-over can be risky. Photo: Shutterstock

Street food

Another common piece of advice when travelling is to avoid street food. Many countries including Thailand will have street vendors selling the local cuisine, though they present many food-safety challenges. These include:
• Food being out in an open space for too long
• People coughing and sneezing near the food, or touching it with unwashed hands
• Insects being near the exposed food
• Foods growing bacteria which need to be a particular temperature

What should you take away from this? DO enjoy the local cuisine. DO treat yourself to the culinary delights of each country you visit. But DO be cautious of how, where and for how long your food is being cooked. A bit of common sense goes a long way. 

It also pays to be prepared. Pack some electrolytes in your suitcase to replenish your body just in case you get hit with a bout of food poisoning. These come in the form of powders, dissolvable tablets, drinks and ice blocks. For particularly nasty cases, seek professional medical help. 

House Call Doctor is an after-hours home doctor service with a team of experienced medical practitioners across Queensland and northern New South Wales. For more information, visit the website.

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