When traveling, the first thing you should consider is that you are getting away from your comfort zone in many ways, eating habits and hygiene style included. As these are some of most common and sensitive topics when visiting the Sub-Continent, we came up with a list of useful tips on how to avoid getting sick in India, including how to minimize the risks of eating street food in Indian cities.
The first time I traveled to India I was very well instructed to avoid street food due to the poor hygienic conditions and the high level of pollution and dust, so I stuck to reputable restaurants. Despite all my safety zeal, on the second day I got sick like never before in my life. I literally puked my guts, all night, starting from midnight through the morning, when I finally fainted. The day after I didn’t touch a bit of food until late evening, when a little spoon of boiled rice kicked my dodgy stomach again and I vomited for one last time, green, probably the poison. After that last time I started feeling better. I’m not sure what provoked such sickness, maybe a mushroom soup I had at restaurant that contained milk.
Here are some of my favorite safety measures on how to avoid getting sick in India and enjoy your trip.
No need to panic or be paranoid about it, but it’s important to consider that different countries have different rules, different geography, different ingredients and different immune systems! I don’t wish anyone to spend hours shaking from food poisoning, and with this post I’m hoping to prevent other travelers from going through it.
First things first: water problems in India.
Last August I spent the whole month in Delhi, and while it was my fourth time in India, I had another incident which led to a whole night of vomiting. While the heaviest outburst was only one night, also the following days (and weeks!) I wasn’t feeling well. I started eliminating different ingredients at every meal to try to spot the culprit, sometimes I would feel less sick but still not at my best.
Finally, researching, reading and exchanging information with other travelers, I reached the conclusion that what was making me feel always nausea was the tap water. Obviously I knew I couldn’t drink tap water in India, but I was still using it to brush my teeth… three times a day!
Plus, since we rented a flat and did much of grocery shopping for meals at home, I used tap water also to wash fruits and veggies: another big mistake.
Pretty irresponsible of me, but I didn’t think such a small amount would have affected me so much. This is why, if you ask me how to avoid getting sick in India, my first thought goes straight to the water, and here are some tips I learnt to my cost.
1. Is it safe to drink tap water in India? The answer is NO as the water is not treated, hence contaminated. Locals drink it but for Westerners this can cause troubles.
2. In the long term it can be a pain, but among the tips on how to avoid getting sick in India, I suggest you brush your teeth with bottled water.
3. If you are cooking, you can use tap water to boil, but to wash fruits and veggies, I suggest you wash off the first dirt with tap water and baking soda and then rinse it off with mineral water.
4. Is it safe to wash yourself with tap water? Obviously you can’t take the full shower or bath with bottled water, but I would suggest for intimate washing you use mineral water to avoid infections.
5. Is it safe to drink boiled tap water in India? If you have no other option, then it’s your best bet, otherwise go for the sealed mineral water.
Now, I know you are thinking it can be costly, especially if you are traveling on a shoestring, but alongside being worth it for your own well-being, you can remarkably cut the costs by buying one of the 20-liter water sealed containers that are sold in most shops (at least in Delhi but I’m sure also in other cities) for very affordable prices. Usually it’s around 1 USD as long as you pay 5 USD deposit for the container itself that you will give back every time you finish it ad they give you a new one for another dollar. At the end of your stay, you take it back and you will get the refund of your deposit.
To wrap this up, I suggest you use the water of the big container to wash yourself, cook, even boil it to make tea, but for drinking I still recommend big brands of bottled water such as Bisleri and Kinley available pretty much everywhere in India.
How to avoid getting sick in India eating street food
Street food in India is always tempting, so it’s totally understandable that travelers can hardly resist. However, if I’m giving tips on how to avoid getting sick in India, I can’t possibly neglect the delicacies you find along the local streets.
For as captivating as samosa, pakora, puri or boiled corns are, think twice before jumping on all the food stalls indiscriminately.
First of all, prefer cooked food to raw one, as this is the best way to get rid of microbes. However, even for the fried bites, do consider where they are, if too exposed to the city’s pollution and especially try to understand how long they have been sitting there. Usually busy stalls are more likely to have fresher products.
When it comes to fresh fruits, juices or even roasted and boiled corns, however, you need to pay extra attention to the water they use to wash it or to make the juices.
Just a piece of advice for some of the fruits you will find in the streets and how to avoid getting sick in India.
1. Pineapple. They are cheap and delicious but you need to be cautious because the knives used for cutting them might be dirty, so if you can just ask them to rinse them with mineral water.
2. Corn on the cob. Boiled corns are boiled in tap water, so it’s up to you if you think you can risk it or not. When it comes to roasted corn, on the other hand, they usually rub lemon and salt on top, and while it’s delicious, you still need to be careful how its done. What I suggest is to buy a lemon and rub it yourself on your corn, it will be delicious and will avoid dodgy stomach.
3. Coconut water. I love it. Among the best things you could possibly have in India, to hydrate and also soothe a dodgy stomach, is coconut water. Thankfully, you will find coconut stalls around every corner. You can drink the water inside and, when you are done, they will cut it open for you so you can eat the delicious (and very healthy) coconut meat. The knife they use to cut it, though, can be dirty, so what you can do is once they removed the first layer, you can take the coconut home and make the hole for the straw with your own knife, or just ask the vendor to clean it with mineral water.
5. Fruit juices. In this case too, I would recommend you choose proper shops instead of street stalls, but also here, you need to be careful about the cleanness of the place and the water they use.
Finally, one last word about the weather. India is very humid and especially during the raining season (last August we got caught up in the middle of pretty heavy rainstorms more than once), there is the risk of Dengue fever, a debilitating disease transmitted by a mosquito. Here follow your common sense such as avoiding puddles where mosquitoes thrive, use mosquito repellent when you go out and also some for the house.
Tourism in India keeps thriving so they are well equipped to treat this type of disease or to provide proper medicine for food poisoning, but keeping in mind some of the precautions will help you better enjoy your trip.