After three nights exploring Lima with the rest of the ISA group and getting to know one another it was finally time for us to board our plane to our final destination for the summer: Cusco. As we began our descent into the Andes (literally), the sounds of oohs and ahhs filled the cabin of the plane, some of which came from my mouth. But my “oohs and ahhs” were of a different nature. While I took a moment to admire the view of Cusco from above like the rest of my peers, I sat hunched over in my seat from the stomach pain I was experiencing. Not even a week here and I became Peru’s first victim– the first student on the trip to get sick. When I was told I had salmonella and a parasite, I couldn’t believe it.
Now that I am out of the hospital and feeling stronger than ever, I thought it’d be appropriate to write a post about how to avoid food borne sickness in Peru, though I think my suggestions will have universal applicability.
1. Only Drink Bottled Water:
We are spoiled. In the US, I don’t think twice about taking a sip from the tap, but here in Peru it’s at least a one day sentence to bed rest. Lacking the same health & safety standards we’re accustomed to in the US, Peru’s water is filled with harmful bacteria that will make you sick. It may be annoying to have to pay for a bottle of water every time you eat, but being sick is even more annoying.
2. Don’t Eat Food Cooked by Street Vendors:
In both Lima and Cusco, anywhere you go you are bound to see a street vendor trying to sell you something. Simple rule of thumb: don’t buy or eat anything from them. It’s not that the food is doomed to taste terrible or even make you sick, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Street vendors aren’t selling food for fun or as a side job, they are doing it because they need the money– it puts food on their table. To ensure the greatest profits, they don’t use Grade A products. Plus, since there really isn’t any regulations on how foods are to be handled and what temperatures they need to be kept at, foods can be contaminated easily.
3. Avoid Raw Fruits and Vegetables:
So far, the vegetarians on the trip have been having a pretty hard time finding new things to eat. Bread, pasta and rice have become staples of their diet. That’s because we’ve been told that salads and uncooked vegetables are off limits––they can be contaminated or have been washed by unsafe water. If you plan on eating vegetables in Peru, you have to make sure they have been cooked. Any fruits you eat should be peeled yourself.
4. Watch Unrefrigerated Foods:
This one may be a bit of a sensitive topic because its more of a cultural difference. In the US, we are used to refrigerated dairy products and eggs. However, here in Peru, as in many other parts of the world, these types of foods are usually not refrigerated. Cusco’s altitude (almost 11,000 feet above sea level) creates a climate that allows these foods to remain unspoiled for quite some time. But if you see chunks in your milk or cheese with green spots, it’s better to avoid these foods.
5. If It Looks Raw, Don’t Eat It:
Duh! This one may seem obvious but… I think failing to observe this obvious rule made me sick. Essentially what happened was my fork pierced into a piece of pink chicken. I asked the people to the left and right of me what they thought. We figured that since we were eating at a pretty fancy place, it had to be okay. So lesson learned: If it looks raw, don’t eat it.