Q:

Should I Eat Fresh Fruits and Veggies Abroad?

Away from home, opt for thick-skinned produce.     Photo: David Leo Veksler / Flickr

A:Who wouldn’t want to eat a fresh lemon while hiking the trails in Cinque Terre, Italy? Or a jackfruit growing in the courtyard of a wat in Thailand?

Unfortunately, the skin of fresh fruits and veggies are breeding grounds for microbes—some of which can cause disease. If you’re traveling where water quality is questionable, simply washing the skin’s surface isn’t a ready solution.

“Cook it, boil it, peel it, or forget it,” says Nanci Baldwin, an R.N. with Passport Health, which manages health clinics specializing in travel. 

Cooking or boiling veggies will kill off any hitchhiking bacteria, but steaming strawberries is an unlikely option. Instead, look for fruits, such as oranges and bananas, with a heavy peel that can be removed without touching the fruit.

Peeling a thin-skinned fruit may result in cross-contamination caused by the knife’s edge touching both the skin and flesh. Baldwin recommends re-rinsing the fruit with bottled water after peeling, but says even that is still risky. 

Some travelers mix bleach washes for their produce, but this tends to make your fruit taste like your bathroom sink. Instead, try a wash from companies such as The Honest Co. and Fit.

If that freshly picked lemon or jackfruit is too tempting, and Montezuma is wielding his revenge, Balwin recommends two steps: Pop an over-the-counter drug, such as Immodium, to stop diarrhea. But that won’t be enough for travelers with bellies full of bacteria. Get a prescription for a country-specific antibiotic and begin taking it at the first sign of digestive trouble.

“You don’t want your sickness to be the most memorable part of your trip," Baldwin says. "You want to have a memorable trip for all the right reasons."

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