How to avoid the Kolkata Splatter...

Inspecting the finer points of Kolkata. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Call it what you like - Berlin Hurlin', Calcutta Splutter, Karachi Crouch - a dose of food poisening while on holiday is unwanted and unpleasant, but not unavoidable.

I've often been asked how to avoid getting food poisoning while travelling, especially in India. The truth is that I've never been one to obsess over travel hygiene, in the sense that the usual hygiene you'd use at home tends to suffice. And I bristle somewhat at the sight of tourists brushing their teeth in only and obsessively with bottled water, or only daring to eat bananas as their 'street food' experience.

One reader even asked me if they could contract 'Delhi-belly' by handling money, and so wondered if it was possible to sterilise their bank notes? Well it's true that bank notes get into flimsy and filthy states after prolonged use anywhere, but it's impractical to sterilise them or to avoid handling them. 

Here are a few sensible precautions...

1) I'd say that the best thing to do when travelling in India – or others countries like it – is always to wash your hands before eating. This is easily done as you are simply falling in line with local custom. Even the most modest roadside shack will have a tap and sink to one side of it, and locals use it religiously prior to eating a meal.

2) Ice and salads were the bogeymen, but most ice is made from treated water these days, especially in hotels, and salads are generally washed in treated water too.

3) It makes sense to eat at busy restaurants (the high turnover means food is more likely to have been freshly cooked) and avoid ordering off piste – it makes sense to eat Indian food in India, Chinese food in China and so on. Personally I tend to steer clear of bolognaise or goulash on what is otherwise an Indian (or other local) menu.

4) Street food gets more than its fair share of blame, but it’s a crying shame to miss out, and if something is sizzling right in front of you should be ok. Keep in mind that most cases of food poisening when travelling come from touching your food with your own unwashed hands.

5) Drinking-wise, bottled water is the best way forward, but it's not very sensible to buy a bottle stored in the open down a dusty side street and then put your mouth around the opening. If you can. do as the locals do and perfect a way of drinking from the bottle without your lips touching the bottle.