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Food poisoning- how to minimize risk

MARSKA

Veteran Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Sept/Oct 2023
Food poisoning. I've had it twice (probably more but I KNEW what it was twice). Terrible. Thought I was going to die, truly. Could barely get to the phone to call for help. Both times it came on quickly and severely. Frankly, I am terrified of ever experiencing it again.

I understand quite well the importance of hand-washing, clean utensils, etc. but am wondering if there are specific places, foods, drinks, to be aware of in this regard.
 
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As you would at home? I don't think I do anything different than I would at home? Stay away from anything looking a bit dodgy and when it's very hot avoid anything very cold and stuff that's been out in the sun.
 
Food poisoning is the worst alright! I would eat and drink from places that look clean and have good refrigeration etc.. if it’s a stinking hot bar with a Spanish tortilla sitting in the sun with flies all over it, I would most probably avoid.
 
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You can never know what’s going on in the kitchen, but I usually judge a resto/cafe by the status of the bathroom. If it is clean and stocked with soap, then it seems that someone is paying attention. I also don’t order anything with mayonnaise, and I don’t have salads very often, although I desperately crave vegetables while on the Camino. Cooked food, served to order (meaning you order it and then they cook it), no food that is sitting out unless it is croissants or cake and such (under glass without flies around), are usually okay. But nothing is guaranteed, unfortunately.
 
I've smelled mice in a number of places along the different Caminos. Actually, it's not the smell of mice but of their urine. Far less frequently I've smelled cockroaches, which means a fairly significant infestation if they can be smelled. When this happens, I just order a drink and only buy something in packaging.

I also never buy anything that has been sitting out, uncovered, even in apparently clean places.
 
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It happens. Any illness can happen as can injury. Sounds like you know how to mitigate the risks as a nurse. My husband had food poisoning one year that put an end to our Camino. Last we also had Covid while in Spain. My go to advice is to ask for help from the hospitalero. They can help and usually do.
 
It’s tough- I had gastroenteritis at the end of my recent camino francés- it was a really difficult experience and not at all fun. Still, I learnt something useful from the experience too.

Aside from taking the usual precautions you’d take at home around sensible choices of where to eat (which aren’t super complicated, and which you probably do every day) I think it’s important to accept that sometimes you can’t control everything and at times, as the saying goes, “shit happens”….

If you don’t take some risks, you’re going to miss out on some of the loveliest experiences in life. Go, walk, eat and enjoy. As much as anything else, sometimes these things just come down to luck, I think.
 
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I got food poisioning day one on my recent Portuguese Camino. It was from a nice cafe in Porto. You never can really know when you are going to get food poisioning but in my case I ate avocado toast that was “express” which apparently meant premade, probably with sour cream that went bad. So I would just avoid premade foods if you can. That being said two days after my food poisoning I ate an stun sandwich made with mayo that had been sitting out on a counter and was fine. So you just really never know…
 
Being a traveller/walker usually means we're new to a place & don't know local reputations of establishments.
The old adage of 'go where the locals go' is one to follow & also busier places with lots of patrons can mean a higher rate of food turnover. Of course neither of these suggestions guarantee anything but are at least a start.
Sometimes there is no choice so you either dive in or you don't...the result could go either way.... 😏 I've found some absolute gems 😋 in unlikely places & then spent the rest of my trip trying to emulate it! 😄
Take care but enjoy...there's only so many precautions in your control.
👣🌏
 
Eat only at international chain restaurants which display a recent certificate of inspection from a competent local authority.

And/or

Stop overthinking.
Besides basic hygeine, like washing your hands? Learning to photosynthesize would do the trick.
Or just notice and learn to be with anxiety.
Why worry about a future you may never meet?
Seven caminos here and no food poisoning yet. But if it happens...just roll with it. Gut stuff on the camino is really unpleasant but generally not the end of the world. Or even the end of your camino, though you may need a rest day or two.

Edited to add that I'm quite familiar with bad food poisoning from living in parts of Asia where it's just a fact of life. It's definitely awful, but not worth worrying about on the camino so long as you are careful about drinking water and hands.
 
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I am, on a regular basis, on vacation in southern Europe (Spain, France, Italy) and never had any problems dealing with food served there. The last time I got food-poisened was in 1978 in Cuxhaven/Germany on the family-vacation on the shores of the North Sea. But that was horrible enough.

But I am, and most southern europeans are, aware of the problems dealing with fresh seafood, meat and food containing raw egg (cake, mayonnaise) or milk (ice) and the summer heat.
If you want to avoid, try starting to eat more local organic food and not this heavily processed and chemicalized junk. Your body will be more prepared to deal with possible food-trouble.

Most other tips from earlier posts apply and are helpful to avoid food-poisening.
 
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As several others have correctly stated, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. I carry loperamide tablets with me - enough to get me to the next farmacia. You can get serious rehydration powders or solutions at a farmacia too.

Remember, aside from cramping and diarrhea, the big risk is dehydration. At first onset, take a couple of loperamide tablets to slow down intestinal motility and preserve water for absorption through the colon. Then get to a farmacia for rehydration solutions or powders to mix.

If no farmacia is present, obtain Aquarius brand sports drinks in any tienda or supermercado. That is the European version of Gatorade. It is not medical grade, but it will help replace lost electrolytes.

Also, you can add plain table salt (Sodium Chloride) to taste - and to boost electrolyte replacement. Add plain sugar (azúcar) as well. Avoid non-glucose “fake” sweetener.

I am aware that there is an alternative school of thought that eschews taking loperamides to slow motility - so as to get all the “badness out.” I am approaching this from a medical standpoint:

1. Stop or add low dehydration
2. Replace electrolytes lost In through rapid expulsion of too much liquid from one’s colon.
3. REST!

Hope this helps,

Tom
 
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Food poisoning. I've had it twice (probably more but I KNEW what it was twice). Terrible. Thought I was going to die, truly. Could barely get to the phone to call for help. Both times it came on quickly and severely. Frankly, I am terrified of ever experiencing it again.

I understand quite well the importance of hand-washing, clean utensils, etc. but am wondering if there are specific places, foods, drinks, to be aware of in this regard.
I won't go into details but yes I've been sick in the first and third world. Sometime it can be a change of diet (different oil etc.) Now I bring pepto-bismal tablets , I take two a day, twice a day, this give me an edge when faced with a new problem. This works for me!
 
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Further to my post above- I carried a small (50mL) bottle of alcohol hand sanitizer in my pocket and used it before I ate anything, ever. It came in handy- I was surprised at how many lavatories in cafes did not have soap for washing hands after use on the camino Francés.
 
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If you do any meal preparation and cooking in an albergue stocked with utensils and plates, bowls, cups etc I recommend washing everything again before you use it.
My understanding is that most pilgrims that get sick in that regard are suffering from things like the norovirus passed on to them by fellow pilgrims with poor after toilet hygiene habits.
 
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Yes, it can be fatal. And that is where my nurse-brain gets it's anxiety.
Great suggestions everyone! I know, mostly common sense but a couple of things I had not thought too much about as well.
Yogurt.
Ages ago, the first time I went to Central America and Mexico, I was told to eat yogurt regularly while traveling. So my guts would be full of good bacteria.

I’m not sure if there is scientific validation behind this practice, but I never did get food poisoning on my trips to Third World countries, although I did get it last year in Santiago!

In Spain, It was difficult to find single servings of yogurt, But I often would find two packs if I spent enough time searching through the copious yogurt offerings in most Spanish supermarkets. You can always buy four packs for less than two euros and I did this a couple of times and gave the extra away.
 
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I've had food poisoning a few times: in Panama at the border wtih Costa Rica when I drank a local drink mixture. And once from some food at home, but not once on nine different Caminos. I do eat salads as often as I can, as well pilgrim meals or a la carte.
 
As you would at home? I don't think I do anything different than I would at home? Stay away from anything looking a bit dodgy and when it's very hot avoid anything very cold and stuff that's been out in the sun.
Good advice to do as you would at home, but I don't understand the reference to avoiding things that are very cold. Could someone explain the reasoning behind this? I would have thought that frozen or refrigerated items would generally be safer than items at room temperature. Sure, problems can occur if items are repeatedly thawed and refrozen, or only refrigerated after sitting a long time at room temperature, but I don't think that would be common in Spain. Also, the risk of food poisoning from tainted ice is surely very low in Spain, where the water quality is very high.
 
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Lost three days to food poisoning this April in Pola de Allande during Semana Santa. Thank heavens for the Spanish health care system. Was able to see a doctor on Good Friday and to have the pharmacist come to her closed pharmacy to fill my prescriptions. Wonderful care and no discussion of fees until after the consultation. Ultimately, I was given a bill to be paid later (honor system) at a BBVA bank for total of 70 euros. By Sunday, I was able to continue the next stage of the Primitivo climbing to Puerto de Palo.
 
I don't think anybody has mentioned water yet.

Obviously avoid the 'agua non-potable' but also I'd avoid the agua potable running off corn fields or generally any open running water.
 
I’ve had my share of food poisoning while traveling abroad in South America and Europe. Their intestinal flora is different, so your -our- gut ecosystem will get upset with exposure to the new bacteria. My recommendation is to visit your Family doctor or Travel Clinic a few weeks before your trip to get medications that are appropriate (e.g. For high altitude -unnecessary for the Camino) including antibiotics to carry just in case. All the above hygienic recommendations are great, most importantly drinking bottled water. If you have the slightest doubt do not eat/drink it.
Que tengas Buen Camino!
 
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One more thing to add to the list
Definitely a good idea.
If you're staying in albergues with a communal kitchen, your tactics will be different than if solo in a hotel. In the former case, wash anything you use within an inch of its life. I have been tempted to use my betadine solution in the wash water, but only have a tiny bottle.
 
I’ve had my share of food poisoning while traveling abroad in South America and Europe. Their intestinal flora is different, so your -our- gut ecosystem will get upset with exposure to the new bacteria. My recommendation is to visit your Family doctor or Travel Clinic a few weeks before your trip to get medications that are appropriate (e.g. For high altitude -unnecessary for the Camino) including antibiotics to carry just in case. All the above hygienic recommendations are great, most importantly drinking bottled water. If you have the slightest doubt do not eat/drink it.
Que tengas Buen Camino!
As already said, there is no need to drink only bottled water while walking the Camino. Spain and France are first world countries and treat their water. The tap water is potable. As is the fountain water in fountains marked as potable.
 
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