High profile outbreaks, such as that on the P&O cruise liner Aurora in 2003, have meant that holidaymakers are more aware than ever of the consequences of food related illnesses and the importance of staying healthy whilst abroad.
2.1 million British tourists suffered from food related illnesses last year but Mark Harrington, CEO with food hygiene specialist Check Safety First, believes that by following a few simple precautions however, holidaymakers can reduce the risks.
Different forms of food poisoning
There are many types of food poisoning, each with its own nasty variation. Some of the most prolific types set out at the end of this article.
Not strictly food related, Crytosporidiosis is another infection to be aware of. Although a waterborne illness contracted from infected swimming pools, its symptoms are very similar to food poisoning. The best way to avoid it is to steer clear of dirty swimming pools, so if the pool at your destination resort looks dirty then don't use it!
Exercising, eating lots of fruit and vegetables and having plenty of sleep in the weeks before travelling will do wonders to boost the immune system, helping to quickly get rid of any germs you pick up abroad.
Taking a probiotic for a few weeks beforehand is also a good idea as it lines the stomach with 'friendly' bacteria. These bacterial cultures help to aid digestion, bolster the immune system and battle for space with 'bad' bacteria, such as those that cause food poisoning.
Tips to avoid food poisoning
• Use bottled or sterilised water, if you are concerned about the safety of the local tap water
• Avoid ice unless you are sure it was made from treated or chlorinated water
• Eat freshly and thoroughly cooked food that is still piping hot
• Avoid food that has been kept warm
• Avoid uncooked food, unless you can peel or shell it yourself
• Avoid salads, as they may have been washed in contaminated water
• Avoid ice cream from unreputable sources. These include portable ice cream sellers who may not have adequate refrigeration and ice cream that may have melted and been refrozen
• Be careful with fish and shellfish – uncooked fish is particularly hazardous
What if I become ill?
Unfortunately, once you get food poisoning there is little you can do except let it run its course. The most important thing is not to get dehydrated. Drink plenty of water - little and often. It's often a good idea to use rehydration salts for children to ensure that they keep their fluid levels high.
Blockage tablets don't solve the problem of diarrhoea. The body needs to rid itself of the toxins so, unless it is absolutely vital, tablets should be used sparingly.
Remember that any incidence of food poisoning should be reported to your holiday rep and the hotel or restaurant that you believe may have been the source of the problem. Be aware that incubation times vary between the different forms so it may not necessarily be the food you ate the night before.
Advice and information
It's hard to know where to turn for guidance about food hygiene when planning a holiday but there are plenty of sources which can help.
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office's Know Before You Go campaign (www.fco.gov.uk) offers practical advice for holidaymakers about the issue of food poisoning and other holiday health matters.
www.who.int/ith/ is the World Health Organisation's International Travel & Health website providing travellers with general information regarding travel health, vaccinations, risks and precautions.
Contrary to popular belief, the star system, which many holidaymakers rely on when choosing accommodation does not take into account food hygiene standards.
www.checksafetyfirst.com carries out food hygiene audits at hotels throughout the world and offers holidaymakers free access to information on its food hygiene standards. Information on hotels that have implemented exceptionally high standards of food hygiene is posted on the website, alongside details of their facilities, contact information and star rating.
DIFFERENT FORMS OF FOOD POISONING
Type: E Coli 0157
Symptons Include:diarrhoea with blood, nausea and vomiting.
Duration: About 2-3 days.
Incubation Period: Illness usually appears 3-4 days after exposure, but it can be as much as 9 days.
Source: Includes both food and water contamination. With careless food handling any product eaten raw may be contaminated with raw meat juices.
Symptons Include: diarrhoea with blood, fever and vomiting.
Duration: usually lasts up to 48 hours.
Incubation Period: Approximately 24-48 hours.
Source: This is the most common form of infectious gastro-enteritis and can be found in contaminated food and water. It is easily passed from person to person
Symptons Include: severe diarrhoea sometimes with blood, severe stomach cramps and vomiting.
Duration: from two days to a week.
Incubation Period: Approximately 2-5 days.
Source: Untreated milk and water, undercooked meat, poultry and shellfish.
Symptons Include: diarrhoea, fever, severe abdominal pains and vomiting
Duration: 4 days to 3 weeks.
Incubation Period: Approximately 2-5 days.
Source: Usually between 12 to 72 hours. Raw eggs, unpasteurised milk and undercooked poultry and meat.
Type: Bacillus Cereus
Symptons Include: nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.
Duration: 24-36 hours.
Incubation Period: Between 6-15 hours after consumption.
Source: Contaminated cooked food, dried foods and dairy products
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