You can often tell just how far from home you’ve traveled by browsing the dinner menu at a local restaurant. Items like pizza and spaghetti – both of Italian origin – won’t push you to expand your horizons too much. But if you’re sampling the food carts in Thailand, don’t be surprised to see white ant eggs, beetles and grasshoppers on the menu.
Cuisine is a big part of studying abroad, and while it can be exciting and eye-opening, it also can expose you to certain risks. To minimize those risks, take time to understand what challenges you may be facing and how you can best prepare yourself for adverse reactions to certain foods.
Educate yourself on local cuisine
Names aren’t always particularly revealing when it comes to telling you about the food you’re eating. Those Rocky Mountain oysters you sampled while in Colorado? Not exactly freshwater shellfish. If you’re going to be spending extended time in a particular country, it’s best to familiarize yourself with some of the common cuisines and staple foods of the area.
Maybe you’ll love them, and maybe their origins will turn you off to them immediately. In either case, it helps to know what you’re eating – especially if those foods carry certain risks with them.
Be wary of undercooked foods and potential allergens
In the United States, we often hear warnings about the dangers of eating food that’s undercooked, raw or could pose other additional health risks. Burgers and steaks, for example, are often prepared at temperatures lower than what the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends to alleviate all health concerns. Similarly, raw or undercooked eggs are used in a variety of foods, and while many eggs are pasteurized, there’s always a risk of becoming sick because of a contamination.
Don’t underestimate the risk of encountering previously unknown allergies when eating new foods. It’s possible you have allergies currently unknown to you because you have yet to come face-to-face with the agitating ingredients. But if you’re blindsided by these allergic reactions, the effects could be devastating – and, in extreme cases, even fatal.
It’s always good to have a plan of action in case such medical emergencies arise. Having a health insurance plan can go a long way toward making sure you’ll receive the attention you need in such situations.
Brace yourself for food poisoning
In a foreign country, it pays to expect the unexpected. Ultimately, no amount of education or inquiry can fully protect you from the potential pitfalls of eating strange, exotic foods. Your stomach may not take kindly to some of your culinary experiments, causing you to become nauseated or even sick.
And don’t write off the possibility that food has simply been mishandled or improperly prepared. Food poisoning can result from a number of sources, but incorrectly handling food, cross-contaminating food products and failing to clean hands before working with food are all universal risks in the food industry.
The prevalent threat of food poisoning is just another reason why travel insurance for students can serve as an important safety net, guaranteeing medical care and coverage if the cuisine of a strange place proves disagreeable.