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Food & Drink Safety Advice For Travellers

Travellers' Diarrhoea  Water
Eating Out  
There are several steps you can take to avoid suffering from travellers' diarrhoea while on holiday in The Gambia. But first it is important to note that the difference between home-grown and Gambian food is the use of more "natural" fertilisers like manure, which can carry bacteria that could cause intestinal problems - also known as Banjul Belly. Below are some basic hygiene rules to follow before consuming food and drink.
Always Wash Hands:
Because you are in the tropics bacteria tend to multiply much faster than back in temperate regions. Do wash your hands often and always before eating or handling food. Dangerous microorganisms are commonly found in water, soil, animals and humans, and can be present on hands and transferred to food. When visiting village markets, be conscious of this when handling raw food and in particular uncooked meat, and wash hands after touching these foods. When going out on excursions to the Gambian bush or anywhere outside your hotel try and pack some hand sanitizer or wipes in case there is no clean water and soap available.

Separate Raw & Cooked Food:
When visiting roadside food vendors or buffets in restaurants and hotels, make sure that raw food is not in contact with cooked food which it could contaminate. Avoid any uncooked food, apart from fruits, vegetables and nuts that can be shelled or peeled.

Foods containing undercooked or raw eggs, such as locally made mayonnaise, some desserts and sauces may be contaminated with salmonella. Raw food can contain harmful microorganisms which could contaminate cooked food via direct contact. This may reintroduce disease-causing bacteria into already safe, cooked food.

Food Must Be Cooked Thoroughly:
In general, ensure your food has been well cooked and remains piping hot. In particular, avoid poultry meat that is still red or where the juices are pink, raw seafood, and minced meat, such as in beef burgers that are still rare due to the fact that they contain harmful bacteria throughout, and could even have tapeworm larva. Harmful microorganisms, such as E. coli, are destroyed by proper cooking which is one of the most effective ways to make food safe to eat. However, it is essential that all parts of the food be thoroughly cooked, i.e. reaching at least 71.1 C (160 F) in all parts.

Seafood dishes are well known for causing intestinal problems, as fish build up contaminants in their tissues from a broad variety of sources. Make sure all fish is well done. Smaller fish tend to be safer to eat as the larger ones may contain biotoxins. Fish organs and shellfish (such as oysters, clams, mussels) should be avoided.

As a general guide the busier a restaurant is the greater the likelihood it serves fresh, clean and safer food. As an added safety measure ask that your meal be well cooked, and take basic precautions. Eating in diners later in the day reduces the chance that you will get fed ingredients from yesterday.

Maintain Food At Safe Temperatures:
Cooked food, such as cold meat platters, which have been kept at room temperature for several hours is another important risk for foodborne illness. Avoid these foods in restaurants, buffets, and in particular at street vendors and markets if they are not kept very hot, on ice or refrigerated. This is because microorganisms can multiply quickly if food is kept at room temperature. By holding food piping hot (above 60C), refrigerated or on ice (at temperatures below 5C) the growth of microorganisms is slowed down or halted.

Choose Safe Water & Food:
Drinking water, ice cream, raw milk and ice cubes can easily be contaminated with potentially harmful chemicals or bacteria if they are produced from tainted ingredients or utensils. If you are in any doubt then it's best to avoid them and find a different source.

Peel all vegetables and fruits if consumed raw. Reject those with damaged skin because toxic chemicals can be produced in mouldy and damaged foods. Green leafy vegetables, such as salads, can carry germs which are hard to remove. Sometimes hotels will add a little chlorine to water in order to rinse vegetables. If in doubt the hygienic preparation of vegetables, avoid eating them.

If available, bottled water is the safer option for drinking water but always ask that the bottle be opened in your presence  and inspect the bottle-top seal to make sure it is intact prior to opening. When the safety of drinking water is unclear, bring it to a rolling boil for at least 1 minute. This will kill most of the microorganisms present. If boiling is not possible, use of water purification tablets such as iodine and micro-pore filtration should be considered. If you still don't have any of these options then a transparent and colourless plastic PET bottle filled with cloth filtered water and left on a roof on a sunny day should do the trick. The so called SODIS method uses UV rays from the sun to kill pathogens, but it must be kept in the sun for at least 6 hours.

Beverages which are either packaged or otherwise bottled are usually safe to drink. Be careful of freshly squeezed fruit juices sold on Gambia's beaches. Make sure that the juice presser peels the fruit and makes the beverage in front of you. The only problem is that you will not know whether they have washed their hands and utensils, however, they are regulated by the authorities.

Note carefully: [Disclaimer] Always seek the advice of your medical doctor before deciding to take or not to take any medications or health precautions. The above information does not and is not intended to replace or substitute the advice and / or recommendation from your doctor or other authorised medical practitioner.
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