Street food is a cultural norm and part of our daily indulgence in Southeast Asia. However, enjoying street food, just like any other dining gastronomic experience, carries a risk of food poisoning. In fact street food is notorious for its reputation on causing food poisoning. If you want to save money and eat delicious foods while avoiding any digestive complication, ponder over our top tips:
- Where and when to eat
Just because a food vendor has people queuing around the corner, doesn't necessarily mean the food is hygienic and clean. While the food may taste delicious and not cost you a fortune, local's tend to have stronger gut immunity to the street food than expats and thus have a better tolerance. However a restaurant with high traffic also means a higher turnover of food meaning there is less likelihood that the foods have been exposed for a long time.
Another option is to choose a place with fewer menu options. This means that their quality control will be focused on only a few items and there is less chance of having excess ingredients that may be reused from the previous day. Eating during the exact dining hours (early breakfast, midday lunch and dinner time) could help as well. This is especially important when dishes are cooked and set out in a buffet style, as you will want to eat them early on - hence it will be less likely to be contaminated.
- The hotter the better
Look for foods that are hot and steaming in order to be on the safe side. The best places are the ones where food is made to order. Hot temperatures kill most germs that cause digestive illnesses as opposed to cold or lukewarm temperature that encourages bacteria growth. Stews, soups, and teas are just a few examples of dishes that are continuously kept bubbling hot. Deep-fried foods are also another option as they have been cooked at a very high temperature.
Rather than picking on certain items that have been left out in the open for long, request for your food to be reheated. Avoid finishing your meal if the centre of the snack is cold when it’s supposed to be a hot meal. Do not shy away when asking for it to be cooked a bit more.
- Check for hygiene practices
Given that most street food is a transparent kitchen where you can actually judge the hygiene level, pay attention to the food handling process. The food may look safe and hot, but a poor hygiene practice should be a major red flag. Look at how the ingredients are being stored and handled and also if the flies are being kept off or they are freely landing on it.
If someone is handling money and the raw ingredients at the same time, it is a cause for concern. Vendors who practice proper hygiene usually use disposable gloves or utensils to avoid coming into contact with both money and food.
There should be different parties managing cash and cooking to ensure the hygiene of the food served.
- Beware of the water source
Most instances the water source can be the reason of infection instead of foods. Contaminated water can transfer germs to fruits and vegetables. It is proven that cooking often kills harmful pathogens, hence avoid anything that is uncooked. This also applies to ice cubes that are not made with drinking water. Most restaurants or stalls use delivered filtered ice that is recognizable by a consistent shape, such as tube-like cylinders. If you are unsure if the ice in the drink you ordered is made from filtered water or not, pick sealed bottled beverages instead.
- Not all raw food is good
Fibers are an important component in your diet that will help your digestive system. However it is also important that you practice precautions when eating fruit and vegetables by the street. Harmful pathogens may be lurking in any raw foods including fruits and vegetables. Although it may be appetising to eat sliced fruits on a hot day, it’s better to opt for peelable fruits like banana. You may eat sliced fruits if the vendor slices the fresh fruit and prepares it for you on the spot.
- Play your part
It might not always be the street vendors fault if you get food poisoning. It can also be due to the hygiene of your hands. Wash your hand thoroughly or sanitise with baby wipes or hand sanitizer before touching your meal or eating. Likewise, cutlery can be a source of bacteria even if the food is safe and fresh. In order to be safe, wipe it with some antibacterial wet wipes. Alternatively, using your own utensils like portable chopsticks.
- Probiotic and charcoal
Besides taking all the precautions to steer clear from harmful street food, there are also preventive steps that you may take in order to better equip your gut. Probiotics either as capsules or as yoghurt form contains live bacteria that are good for the digestive system. Activated charcoal could also be a great option to prevent or treat symptoms of food poisoning. Consult medical advice for the recommended dosages.
While these tips will help you avoid food poisoning, sometimes you can get caught out. Gastrointestinal issues are one of the leading causes of hospitalization in Thailand and so it remains necessary to have full health coverage should an issue arise. To help you decide how to pick the right plan for you, we've created the ultimate guide to health insurance in Thailand.