April 09, 2012

What about Food Poisoning in Cuenca Ecuador – Is It Safe Eating Out?

I have one question for you guys since you are extremely familiar with the country. How safe is it to eat from the street vendors? It looks like delicious food; however, many websites say it is dangerous. If you have any other suggestions for us, I'm all ears!
How Safe Is It Eating From Street Vendors?
We actually made a video of the family eating from a street vendor in Cuenca. Here’s the video
It’s usually not a good idea to start eating from street vendors simply because you really do not know how long the food may have been sitting out in the open; or if the food preparation is sanitary; etc.
We do not make it a habit to eat from vendors on the street, but in very rare occasions, if certain criteria are met, it should not be a problem. There are three important things you should notice and be aware of before eating from a street vendor. Notice in the video all of the three criteria we talk about below have been met; in that case it is generally safe eating from vendors.
1. She peels the fruit –can’t go wrong there
2. She is wearing gloves or using a napkin to touch the food – this is good
3. She puts the food on a hot grill --perfect
If all of the criteria are met then it would be safe to it from a street vendor. Below are some examples of when it is NOT safe to eat from street vendors, even in North America!
1. She pulls the meat (hamburger, hot dog, chicken) or peeled fruit out from under the cart, somewhere, but from where? Is the container it came from clean? How long has the meat or fruit been sitting? Was it sitting in ice or in a cooler? Can flies land on the food and do the disgusting thing they do?
2. She is touching the food with her hands – how does she clean her hands from a small little cart? What has she done or touched BEFORE touching your food.
3. The food does not get cooked on a hot grill – the food is sitting in warmers already prepared 
4. The raw fruit or vegetable is just sitting out in the open. Did they have clean hands when they prepared it?

NONE of the scenarios above is safe. NOT safe – we do not recommend!!
Is It Safe Eating Out in Restaurants in Cuenca?
The question is, is it safe eating out in any restaurant anywhere in the world? Every time you eat outside your own kitchen environment and have a meal prepared and cooked for you you’re taking a risk of getting sick from food poisoning or from a contaminated food prep person or server. Even in North America where they have restaurant kitchen inspections, people still get food poisoning, imagine that. 
People do not realize that there are kitchen's with unsanitary restaurant practices, even in the most famous of expat restaurants. Case in point, someone got VERY ill from eating in a popular expat, (gringo owned) restaurant right here in Cuenca and they posted this on the restaurant reviews online!
People when they come to a new place have this “follow the other expat” mentality. Instead of using common sense and local recommendations to find “ a good place to eat” they ask the expat community, which will always refer you to the gringo restaurants rather than the Ecuadorian ones. Not saying there aren't any good gringo restaurants, we even list one in our free restaurant guide, but usually (not always) we believe the risk is higher or, at the very least, not getting any value for your money.
Point is, most of the people eating in the gringo restaurants are leaving, so it follows that when they get sick, and the food is not prepared in sanitary conditions—they’re only tourists and likely will never come back—they can’t do anything about getting sick like make a local complaint, tell all their local family and friends or anything like that; they’re leaving. Do you get it?
But in the local restaurants it is only local people eating in there and it is busy. If the restaurant wants to keep its customers (the local community) it had better make sure the food is prepared properly from start to finish; if they don’t, they will lose their bread and butter, local business.
The best Cuenca restaurants to eat in our going to be busy local eateries and the chances of becoming sick are very, very slim, just because of those two guidelines; BUSY – LOCAL.
There are a lot of Ecuadorian restaurants in Cuenca to choose from, and our FREE restaurant guide talks about 16 good and inexpensive restaurants in Cuenca Ecuador. We still patronize most of these Ecuadorian restaurants and have never gotten sick, not even slightly ill.
Just remember that when eating from street vendors it takes due diligence and discernment; survey the cart, the food and the handler, use your un-common sense and you will know if it is safe or not. 

And is it safe eating from restaurants in Cuenca? 
Busy –Local – Let’s Eat!!

5 comments:

  1. On that note, is there anything in the United States commercially available that is safe to consume?

    The food is genetically modified, the water is tainted with poisonous fluoride. The vaccines use mercury as an additive.

    In the United States if someone wants to provide healthy food to customers, let's say raw milk, for example, there is a very good chance the FDA will send in a SWAT Team to shut them down from doing so -- not because raw milk is dangerous to consumers -- but because it is considered a threat to the large corporations that set the rules in America.

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  2. I am surprised that anyone uses gloves. If you go into the mercados where they serve pig they always use their hands to give you a sample.

    P.S.

    Every time I have eaten the almuerzo at Govindas they have asked me if I wanted brown or white rice. Thought that would make your day!!!!

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  3. Another tip that I abide by when looking for a place to eat, especially on the road in Ecuador...if there are A LOT of people in a stall, then food moves quickly, hence it's not sitting around and generally safe to eat.

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  4. Thanks Nick. Too true.

    Yes, being asked if brown or white rice makes our day. Thanks for the comment Nards.

    Good point gatinha1975. Although we're very choosy still about which stall we will or will not eat from. Keep your eyes wide open.

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  5. Good point, Nick. I was in Ecuador for about 10 days last year around the time this post was written, following two weeks in Chile. I was absolutely fine both places eating whatever I wanted, although I didn't eat from street vendors. When I got back to the US, however, I actually got sick on the food.

    Wendy

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