It happens so often, it even has it’s own nickname. “Holiday tummy” describes the unpleasant consequences of unfamiliar bugs in the food and water. At best it means some extra trips to the loo and cutting back a bit on the buffet but at worst it can ruin the holiday.
Up to 100 Scots have been struck down with illness after a severe outbreak of food poisoning this summer in Mexico.
The episode involves Cyclospra which causes stomach cramps and diarrhoea. With over 24 hotels affected, experts believe the outbreak stemmed from tainted food supplied to the resorts.
One holidaymaker from Cheshire affected by the bug back in June says she was left in agony and lost a stone in weight. She’s now considering legal action.
The growth of budget airlines has vastly increased the number of people travelling abroad and with it the risk of getting ill from food.
Health Protection Scotland this week advised GPs to look out for suspected cases but Public Health England has gone further. It advised people holidaying in Mexico to take care of their eating and drinking and to get medical advice for any symptoms, both during the trip and upon return.
Taking care of eating and drinking sounds easier than it is. The cautious will avoid salad or ice cubes in drinks but the simple fact is that holidays are the time when we eat out most, and that comes with risks.
Government advice is that all drinking water should be bottled, boiled or filtered. We should also avoid uncooked berries, unpeeled fruit, salad leaves and even fresh herbs since these are difficult to clean properly. Finally they advise food we consume should be freshly prepared, thoroughly cooked and eaten hot, whenever possible.
And whenever possible is the big problem in all this. Standing at the buffet in a big hotel in a far off country, you have no idea what has been freshly prepared or thoroughly cooked, and hot can easily become tepid.
No hotel is going to set out to give it’s guests food poisoning. But when food has a long supply chain and ends up being prepared ahead of service in hot kitchens well away from the beach or the pool, the chances of something going wrong are magnified.
So what do we do? By sticking to a diet of bottled water and crisps, your holiday should pass without incident but where is the fun in that? Part of the joy of being away from home is the unusual tastes and you only discover them by engaging with local food culture.
It is worth remembering too much alcohol is a far greater cause of illness on holiday than food poisoning will ever be. So we need to keep food poisoning cases in perspective.
There are sensible precautions we can take but everything in life involves an element or risk and against that is the pleasure of an ice cream on a hot day or a plate of prawns by a harbour.
Ten years ago I was struck down by campylobacter food poisoning and suffered weeks of illness. Tests showed it came from a chicken sandwich at an upmarket chain in Edinburgh. The risk of illness from food is around us every day so we shouldn’t let it spoil a long anticipated holiday.