The Queen is rumoured to avoid eating watermelon, shellfish and salad when travelling abroad. Are these sensible precautions for all travellers?

Watermelon

Picture by Kirti Poddar

There’s no doubt about it: the Queen has to be viewed as an expert on foreign travel.

So the travel community took a keen interest when news leaked of what food she politely pushes to the side of her plate when dining in foreign climes.

According to a report carried in the Daily Mail on 8th March 2012, the Queen prefers not to have salad, shellfish and watermelon on the menu when on her global travels.

The Mail’s source (Parliament’s Father of the House, Sir Peter Tapsell) revealed that the Queen believes these foods can provide a recipe for an upset stomach.

Sir Peter added: “The bedrock of the Queen’s success has been the constitution. Not our constitution but hers because she has always had the most amazing stamina.”

So is the Queen right to be fearful of salad, shellfish and watermelon?

Watermelon

You don’t have to travel abroad to pick up a nasty tummy bug from watermelon. In November 2011, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) identified Salmonella from a ready-to-eat sliced watermelon.

There are two common ways in which watermelons can become contaminated with salmonella. Firstly, bacteria lurking on the surface of the melon can be transferred to the flesh of the melon while it is being sliced. Secondly, watermelon can come into contact with harmful bacteria if stored or washed in contaminated water.

Reacting to a suspected outbreak of watermelon salmonella poisoning in 2011, the HPA stressed that the risk of suffering illness after eating watermelon is “very low”.

Shellfish

Shellfish has been associated with many outbreaks of food poisoning so the Queen would be right to be wary when presented with a silver platter of them.

Again, shellfish aren’t just dangerous when eaten abroad, a high-profile case of novirus at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant last year highlighted how all cooks should be on their guard when handling shellfish.

At the time of the outbreak, John Wright, of the River Cottage restaurant, wrote an excellent article on the risk associated with eating shellfish. (You can find it here.) The gist of John’s article is that thorough cooking is the key to destroying harmful shellfish viruses. Unfortunately, shellfish is often served raw and eating raw shellfish “will always involve an element of risk”.

Sewage tends to be responsible for shellfish contamination so the safety of shellfish depends on how thoroughly individual agencies test the waters where they are farmed. Apparently, Great Britain has fairly stringent testing procedures but do you really want to research the sewage-testing process of an individual area before you sit down to a meal abroad?

Salad

The Queen is also right to exercise caution with salad. Despite its reputation as a healthy food, items such as cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce can easily harbour salmonella and E.coli if they are fertilised with contaminated manure or through contact with contaminated products.

The risk of picking up bugs was the reason why some farming communities, until very recently, used to cook all fruit and vegetables before eating them.

Watermelon, shellfish and salad aren’t the only foods which should be on travellers’ take-care-with list. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website, reserves special mention for:

  • Ice cream from “unreliable sources” – these apparently include kiosks or mobile traders
  • Ice cubes or food stored in ice (unless you are certain it is made from treated or chlorinated water)
  • Milk, cheese and various dairy products which haven’t been refrigerated or pasteurised

You can find more FCO information about eating and drinking safely abroad here.

It is important to stress that travellers shouldn’t let fear spoil their holiday; especially as eating and trying new foods is one of the main joys of foreign travel.

And a look at internet forum sites reveals that there are plenty of sensible precautions which travellers can take in the weeks before travelling to prepare their immune systems for holiday eating and drinking.

Favourite ways of healthily gearing up for travel include taking exercise, bingeing on nutritious fruit and veg and building up sleep reserves.

Taking a pro-biotic supplement can also fill your immune system with friendly bacteria and help fight food-poisoning bugs.

Your choice of food while travelling abroad, just as it is at home, is a judgement call. If the Queen can make the right choices after half a century of exotic travel then so can we!

Are there foods which you avoid when on holiday? Or do you have a top tip to avoid those nasty stomach bugs?

Please let us know by commenting below.

 


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