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The Deadly Dozen: 12 Things You Should Never Eat in Foreign Countries

The Deadly Dozen: 12 Things You Should Never Eat in Foreign Countries
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I’ve Traveled the World with Locals and They Have Encouraged Me to Eat Less Rather Than More Because They Know What’s Good, and What’s Bad

I traveled the world across Asia and Europe eating, studying and developing new products for various food companies. I traveled with local experts who guided me through this wonderful and at times, dangerous world of cuisine. Fortunately I avoided some of the hard lessons that my friends and others learned as they brazenly and sometimes blindly explored this world of unknown foods. I learned a lot about these unknown foods and it’s worth considering what is interesting and what can simply kill you during an innocent sampling or an ill-timed taste.

  1. Avoid raw food. Especially protein such as meat and seafood. You may argue that you love sushi. That’s fine. But the quality standards in Japan are rarely applied to many of the places that sell sushi around the world. Raw fish brings many parasites and problems. Are you sure your local sushi place is delivering the quality standards defined by the Japanese? Probably not.
  1. Never drink the blood of any animal. This is popular in Japan and in many Asian countries. It’s sometimes mixed with a shot of alcohol that makes you think it’s safe. It’s not. It’s a fast path to Hepatitis-C. It’s incurable and destructive to your liver and kidneys. Raw blood, uncooked is a killer. Don’t even think about it.
  1. Eating bugs is bad. Oh sure, you see brave guys on TV eating bugs and even some kids eating bugs in the jungle. The problem is cultural and coincidental. Raw bugs, and even cooked bugs aren’t good to eat from. Especially in a third-world setting. Eat bugs at your own risk and respect your instinct to avoid this odd cuisine.
  1. Don’t eat what the natives eat. Sure, they may love a chick in an egg that is not fully hatched and chew it raw, but if it’s your first time your system may not understand this is a food source and infection or intestinal distress could set in. We all eat what we’ve grown up with and new things can create new problems our systems can’t understand.
  1. Never eat “street food.” It’s always tempting and looks so good, but unless you’re with a trusted local person who knows the street, “street food” is dangerous. A friend of mine ate a duck from a rack in an alley in Hong Kong once and thought it was wonderful. He spent the next 2 months in a hospital and hasn’t recovered fully to this day.
  1. Restaurants are no guarantee of food safety in many countries. Make sure it’s hot. Make sure it’s cooked. Make sure the place is clean. Trust your local friend to send you or accompany you to the best places. If it happens to be a chain from a global brand it’s probably a safe bet as well. Global brands tend to protect their reputation and their food quality.
  1. Avoid food from vending machines. In the U.S. there are strict and enforced limits on food shelf-life for foods, especially in vending machines. There are also strict guidelines in the U.S. with regards to the temperature maintained within a vending machine. As for the rest of the world, all bets are off and enforcement varies. Soft drinks are safe, food is another matter.
  1. Hotel room-service can be a bad idea. It’s actually an idea that seems to be dying around the world, but it can be far worse in some obscure hotels in many countries. I would never order a salad, possibly a soup if it’s really hot, and can’t imagine ordering anything that requires a certain cooking temperature to be safe such as chicken or beef or pork. Hungry for room service? Order a big bag of potato chips and a bottle of water.
  1. Eating at a local friend’s house. What could possibly go wrong? This is a friend and they’re going to make you a home cooked meal. But should you drink the water, eat the family favorite or blindly assume that Grandma is making it based on sound food safety practices? The sickest I ever became was because of a home-cooked meal from the wife of a good friend in Singapore. I never told him or her, but I paid for it for months afterwards.
  1. Do it yourself. It’s tempting to walk through local markets and say I want to make my own meal. So you buy a bunch of good, fresh stuff and whip it up in your mini-kitchen or on your own with improvised equipment. It could be really good; it could also be a mistake. There are no guarantees about food safety at local markets internationally. And even if you wash the stuff, who’s to say the water isn’t more dangerous than the food.
  1. There is no such thing as good Pub-Grub. Pubs around the world are notorious for really bad food. Eating in bars is not a good idea unless the food is simple and served hot. French fries come to mind. Not much else.
  1. Skip eating at the Tiki Hut. The fruit might be okay. After all the bartender is putting it into most of the drinks. But his or her priority is not the food. It’s probably from the hotel kitchen and has been sitting somewhere on the back-bar too long. Enjoy your Mai Tai and eat somewhere else.

In the end. Common-sense prevails. We all gotta eat. It’s just a question of making good choices so we can enjoy the journey rather than regret the trip.




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