Samui Wining & Dining
Travellers’ Trot

Food hygiene is the main culprit of this unfortunate complaint. Here’s how best to avoid it.


24You’ve heard the horror stories. “I missed most of my holiday stuck in bed after eating those prawns from a street vendor. I wish I’d stuck to hotel food.” Or the so-called advice from armchair travellers who feel they’re the experts when it comes to all things travel related, “You’re going to Thailand! That’s wonderful… but whatever you do, DON’T have ice in your drink, they make it from tap water and you can get all sorts of diseases! Why not go somewhere civilised instead?”

      So, you could ‘play it safe’ and only eat at your hotel (but that’s no guarantee all will be fine anyway), and you can sip slowly on your warm drink, free of ‘dangerous’ ice. Or you could actually enjoy your holiday in Thailand, just by using a little common sense.

      It's probably the most unpleasant minor travellers’ disorder. Unfortunately, it's also probably the most common. Call it what you will – Montezuma's revenge, the travellers’ trot, Delhi belly, the runs, travellers’ tummy or the commonly accepted TD (for travellers’ diarrhoea). Whatever you call it, the result is the same: confinement to your room and an unnatural attachment to the toilet, not wanting to venture more than a minute’s walk

from it. Symptoms include diarrhoea, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting. In extreme cases, it can be dangerous, causing severe dehydration, malnutrition or worse, if not treated.

      According to various reports, between 20 and 50 per cent of international travellers suffer from some degree of TD. A vaccine against E. coli, the most common cause of TD, has been under development for over a decade now, and there's no sign that it will be released any time soon. Until then, there are easy ways to prevent this holiday-wrecking condition. And if you become ill while travelling, you can treat yourself immediately, lessening both the severity and duration of symptoms. Samui has many 24 hour or late night pharmacies, where rehydrating fluids and Imodium can be bought.

      Poor food handling or contaminated water is almost always the culprit of TD, and is usually associated with poor countries with limited resources or education. Here on Samui, many tourists miss out on an ice-cold drink as they’ve been misinformed that the ice is not safe here. But, there’s an easy way to know if the ice in your drink is safe – if it’s cylindrical (round, not cubes, with a hole in the middle) then it’s quite OK for consumption. You’ll find bigger ‘blocks’ used in drinks, and smaller ones, usually added to fruit in a blender for shakes, and they’re all are made in ice factories and delivered to the restaurants, food stalls and resorts. Think about it. If a food stall or roadside café doesn’t have electricity for a fridge, how can it even make its own ice, right? So they get ice delivered daily – one type that appears shaved from a big block that’s used in cooler boxes to keep their fresh produce chilled, and the other type with the holes, made from drinking water. In fact, you’ll see the trucks driving around the island all day long, with delivery guys hanging off the back as they do their regular rounds.

     Eating in Thailand is a delight, with a wide choice of exotic dishes to choose from. Stall eating is generally fine, and some of the best food in the country can be found at inexpensive market carts. Check the tables, eating utensils, the hands (as well as the personal hygiene of the cook) to determine if the place pays enough regard to cleanliness. If they are clean, then there’s a good chance that it’s safe to eat there. Another good indication is the number of other patrons frequenting the place. If it’s busy, not only does it mean that many of the guests will be regulars, but it also means a high turnover of food, so little chance for ingredients to spoil, even if not refrigerated. Most things are obvious (one would think) such as avoiding food that’s been left out in the sun for long periods of time, especially fish. Most Thai food is cooked at very high temperatures, which kills bacteria, and the trend for ‘food grilled on a stick’ is also hygienic as the sticks are handled rather than the food.

      Those adventurous enough to try street food are sure to find an amazing array of choice and some delicious experiences, and of course great photo opportunities for your social media pages. All too often travellers are concerned about the food handlers’ hygiene and forget their own. So equally important is washing your hands before you eat, and being aware of not touching your hands to your mouth when they haven't been washed. You’ve been out and about in public touching hand rails, tables and chairs and an array of other items that thousands before you have touched, and so you may well be infecting yourself and blaming the poor food vendor for your upset stomach.

       Travellers’ tummy also varies from person to person, and some of us have a much stronger stomach than others. Sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with the food as such, but just a change in diet or eating food spicier than usual can be enough to give you the runs. It’s best to ease your way up the spice and chilli ladder to avoid this problem, and remember that a local’s version of spicy or not spicy can be very different to yours!

         Many people assume that food at five-star hotels is safer than street food, and while we’d hope that to be true, it’s not always the case. A new staff member may forget to wash his hands, and there you have it – travellers’ trot! Also, beware of buffets that have been left out too long, as the food is kept at just the right temperature for bacteria to breed. When eating street food, make sure it’s very hot, and even get the vendor to put it back on the grill for a bit longer.

         Having said all of the above the fact of the matter is that if you take a little care with your selection then you’re going be just as safe as back home – you can even be unlucky and get sick at home when eating out. Those that are over-cautious about food hygiene make it difficult for themselves, as the result is a weakened immune system that can’t handle any changes to the diet. Wherever you eat it’s only sensible to wash hands before eating or use a hand sanitizer.

         It is, of course impossible to eliminate risk completely but take sensible precautions and you will get to experience some great authentic food.


Rosanne Turner


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