Protecting Your Travelers from Foodborne Illnesses

The recent outbreaks of E. coli and Salmonella in the U.S. draw attention to the possibility of acquiring a foodborne illness, even in resource-rich areas. And for travelers, the risks can be even higher.

According to On Call’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. William Siegart, “When traveling, one should be mindful of foodborne illness risks, particularly where sanitation and food preparation precautions are questionable or unknown. Every year, several million people travel across the globe, from developed nations to less-developed areas such as tropical regions in Africa, Asia, and Central & South America. Twenty to fifty percent of these individuals will experience traveler’s diarrhea from various types of bacterial food or water contamination. ” The good news is, the risk of contracting a foodborne illness can significantly decrease through education and preparation—in this blog, Dr. Siegart discusses some of the most common foodborne illnesses  and how  travelers can prevent them from ruining their trip.

Common Foodborne Illnesses for Travelers


  • The most common foodborne illness
  • Symptoms usually develop 12 to 48 hours after exposure and include diarrhea (sometimes bloody), vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain
  • Exposure to as few as 10 virus particles is enough to cause infection
  • Dehydration is common with norovirus. Oral rehydration is most important for recovery
  • Typically lasts 1-3 days

E Coli:

  • Stands for Escherichia coli
  • There are multiple strains of the bacteria, and five types are capable of producing intestinal infection
  • Symptoms usually develop within 3-4 days following exposure and include diarrhea, abdominal cramping
  • Typically lasts 5-10 days


  • Symptoms usually develop 12-72 hours following exposure and include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps
  • Leading cause of diarrhea in resource-rich areas
  • Most commonly associated with ingestion of contaminated poultry, eggs, and milk
  • Typically lasts 4-7 days

Treatment and Prevention

Now that we’ve discussed some of the common foodborne illnesses, let’s talk about treatments and prevention techniques. Dr. Siegart explains, “The mainstay of treatment for foodborne-associated vomiting and diarrhea is the replacement of water and electrolytes. If the illness is prolonged or severe, a medical evaluation and intravenous fluids may be necessary.”

As far as prevention is concerned, Dr. Siegart continues, “Travelers should avoid raw or uncooked foods – specifically raw eggs, undercooked meat, or unpasteurized milk. They should only eat hot, freshly prepared and cooked food. Food initially served hot should not be allowed to sit for too long as there’s a risk for contamination the longer the food is out, and bacterial growth once the food reaches room temperature. Fruit and vegetables must be washed thoroughly. It is best to avoid raw vegetables, salads, and unpeeled fruit if there is any uncertainty about preparation. If it is on a buffet, travelers should assume it is contaminated. Hands should be washed frequently with soap and water. Hand sanitizer should be used in addition to frequent hand washing, not as a replacement.

Additionally, prior to any trip, travelers should research their destinations to find out what diseases are common and if any vaccines are required. Travelers should also consult their travel risk management provider to confirm the best places for local medical care.”

Want to ensure your travelers are prepared for a healthy trip abroad? Contact us today.