Travelers Guide: Food and Drink in India
- Avoid eating street food especially from unhygienic vendors
- Avoid drinking or even brushing your teeth with tap water. Tap water in India is generally contaminated and a cause of several ailments for Indians as well. Use only bottled water for drinking, brushing your teeth or even washing any fruits or vegetables you might buy for consumption.
- Check the seal of the bottled water, if it appears tampered or not fully sealed, return it to the vendor and request a new bottle. Empty mineral water bottles are often refilled with tap water and sealed with just a plastic seal for profit.
- A much cheaper and safer alternative is to invest in a good portable water purifier bottles.
- According to ‘A Guide on Safe Food for Travellers’ published by the World Health Organization (WHO), there are 5 Keys to Safer Food, especially during travel:
- “Keep Clean: Wash your hands often and always before handling and consuming food. Dangerous microorganisms are widely found in soil, water, animals and people and can be carried on hands and transferred to food. While visiting food markets, be aware of this when touching raw food and in particular raw meat, and wash hands after handling these foods. These markets often include live animals which can transmit a number of diseases including avian influenza (“bird flu”). Therefore, avoid handling or close contact with these animals.
- Raw and cooked food should be separated: When frequenting street food vendors or buffets in hotels and restaurants, make sure that cooked food is not in contact with raw food that could contaminate it such as raw sliced onions on tikkis. Avoid any uncooked food, apart from fruits and vegetables that can be peeled or shelled. Dishes containing raw or undercooked eggs, such as homemade mayonnaise, some sauces and some desserts (e.g. mousse) may be dangerous. Raw food can contain dangerous microorganisms, which could contaminate cooked food through direct contact. This may reintroduce disease-causing bacteria into safe, cooked food.
- Food should be cooked thoroughly: In general, make sure your food has been thoroughly cooked and remains steaming hot. In particular, avoid raw seafood, poultry meat that is still red or where the juices are pink and minced meat/burgers that are still rare because they contain harmful bacteria throughout. Dangerous microorganisms are killed by proper cooking which is one of the most effective ways to make food safe. However, it is critical that all parts of the food be thoroughly cooked, i.e. reaching 70° C in all parts.
- Food should be kept at safe temperatures: Cooked food held at room temperature for several hours constitutes another major risk for food-borne illness. Avoid these foods at buffets, markets, restaurants and street vendors if they are not kept hot or refrigerated/on ice. Microorganisms can multiply very quickly if food is stored at room temperature. By holding food refrigerated or on ice (at temperatures below 5°C ) or piping hot (above 60°C) the growth of micro-organisms is slowed down or stopped.
- Choose safe water and food: Ice cream, drinking water, ice cubes and raw milk can easily be contaminated with dangerous microorganisms or chemicals if they are made from contaminated ingredients. If in doubt, avoid them. Peel all fruits and vegetables if eaten raw. Avoid those with damaged skin because toxic chemicals can be formed in damaged and mouldy foods. Green-leafed vegetables (e.g. green salads) can contain dangerous microorganisms, which are difficult to remove. If in doubt about the hygienic conditions of such vegetables, avoid them. If available, bottled water is the safer choice for drinking water but always check the seal to ensure it has not been tampered with. When the safety of drinking water is doubtful, bring it to a vigorous boil. This will kill all dangerous microorganisms present. If boiling is not possible, micropore filtering and use of disinfectant agents such as iodine tablets should be considered. Beverages, which are either bottled or otherwise packaged, are usually safe to drink.”
However, just ensure that the packaging is not tampered or bloated/puffed as that generally indicates a contamination.
If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with minimum 60% alcohol content. You can pack these and bring them from your home country or get it in India in most of the drug stores/chemists.
The guide goes on to advise on what to do if one gets Traveller’s Diarrhoea:
Most diarrhoeal attacks are self-limited and clear up in a few days. Diarrhoea may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and/or fever. The important thing is to avoid becoming dehydrated. Ensure that you always drink sufficient amounts of fluids, particularly when travelling in a hot climate. This is extremely important for children. If the child is restless or irritable, or shows signs of strong thirst, or has sunken eyes, or dry skin with reduced elasticity, dehydration is already progressing and immediate medical attention should be sought.
Should bowel movements be very frequent, very watery or contain blood, or last beyond 3 days you should seek medical help. Where there is no medical help available a complete 3-day course of ciprofloxacin* (500 mg twice a day for adults, 15mg/kg twice a day for children) can be taken.
As soon as diarrhoea starts, drink more fluids, such as oral rehydration formula, boiled, treated or bottled water, weak tea, soups or other safe fluids.
Avoid any drinks that tend to remove more water from the body, including coffee, overly sweetened drinks, some medicinal teas and alcohol.
|Age group||Amount of fluids or ORS** to drink|
|Children less than 2 years||Up to ½ cup after each loose stool|
|Children 2-10 years||Up to 1 cup after each loose stool|
|Older children and adults||Unlimited amount|
Contrary to common belief, medicines which reduce bowel movements are not recommended. In children, these preparations should never be used as they may cause intestinal obstruction.
* Generic name – can be sold under other names
**If ORS are not available, mix 6 teaspoons of sugar plus one level teaspoon of salt in one litre of safe water (“taste of tears”) and drink as indicated in the table