International Travel with a Taste for Food Safety

My wife and returned from a trip to Israel and Jordon with our church group and family. In many ways it was a pilgrimage of a lifetime. I didn’t want anything to steal the important precious moments so, amongst other things, while there I was constantly cognizant of food safety. Many of my travel companions knew about my connection to so I tried not to increase anyone’s anxiety but there were significant food safety risks.

I subscribe to Google Alerts using the key words “Food Poisoning” and I read of the multiple daily epidemics in other countries. If you have done any international travel you can understand why.

  • Sanitation is often suboptimal. Bathrooms frequently lack soap or clean paper towels.
  • Workers apparently don’t often wash their hands and very, very few use gloves during food preparation.
  • Food often sits exposed to flying insects or pedestrian traffic.
  • Holding temperatures are neglected.
  • Food & tableware is often on the table before customer arrival, for how long?

While we were traveling, I was cautious to drink water from capped bottles and use glasses only when drinking wine or other alcohol. (Alcohol’s effect in food safety will be discussed in a later blog.) I tried to choose foods that were hot or if not hot, at least were not in a cream based sauce. I avoided foods that may not have been adequately washed such as salads & uncooked chopped vegetables. I avoided some meat, which may have been marginally cooked such as fish, or ground meats. When choosing foods from a buffet bar, I reached for the part of the dish that was farthest away from the serving line and avoided dishes that were largely picked over.

By now I am sure you are shaking your head wondering what I gave up in terms of the cultural experience to avoid the dreaded food poisoning event. In some ways it is a sacrifice trying to stay healthy. Fortunately the sacrifice paid off for me. I didn’t get food poisoning while in Israel or Jordon. But then again, to my knowledge no one else did either.

The day after arriving home several of us got sick with stomach cramps and diarrhea. What was the implicated food? When did we get the bug? I don’t know. It can take days for some food poisonings to manifest.

The trip is over, the precious moments were protected, the cramps and diarrhea are gone and I have lived to tell you how to protect yourself, just as I did.


Author: Dr. Harlan Stueven, MD

Harlan Stueven M.D. is a Board-Certified Emergency physician with sub-specialization in Environmental Toxicology and Board Certification in Medical Toxicology. Starting his career in the USAF, he served as a Flight Surgeon and Environmental Health Consultant Physician where one of his duties was monitoring food safety. In his nearly 40-year practice, he treated a range of medical, surgical and poisoning emergencies. He has been a Medical Director and/or Chairman of several hospital-based Emergency Medicine Departments, served as the President of Emergency and Environmental Medicine consulting group, a physician group Chief Financial Officer and sat on many national, state and local committees. Dr. Stueven founded Dining Grades and the Dining Safety Alliance to improve food safety by increasing awareness of food borne illness and the formation of partnerships within the food industry. He is a consultant to the Wisconsin Retail Food Establishment Grading Work Group; a Co-investigator in a CDC funded “Evaluation of Health Department Restaurant Inspection Programs” project. He has presented at several National, State and Regional conferences on restaurant grading and food safety. He is an accomplished leader, medical researcher, a champion of process improvement, author, and national and international speaker.

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