Have you ever been to downtown NYC? There is hotdog and hamburger vendors on the streets just like here in Cuenca. Is it safe to eat from a street vendor on the street in NYC? Is it safe to eat at any restaurant in the U.S, even if it looks clean in the dining room? I know personally of two people who have gotten food poisoning eating in very clean and chic restaurants in the U.S.
My mother ate in a five star stylish steak and seafood restaurant on the Oregon coast and her and the friend she was with both got food poisoning. They were both terribly ill for a week! A friend of ours in Georgia, USA got sick from eating at a barbeque rib style restaurant. The point is looking at the cleanliness of the dining room and even the kitchen will not ensure you won’t get food poisoning.
Sometimes it’s not the restaurants fault—sometimes the food is delivered to the restaurant already contaminated, such as with lettuce, spinach, mushrooms, eggs, etc. This has happened quite often in the U.S because you hear about it on the evening news. There is a lot of contaminated food in the U.S and the chances of getting sick are greater where there is so much unclean food and horrific animal care practices.
Reality dictates that every time we eat out in a restaurant we are taking a risk that a food worker did not wash their hands, or that the vegetables came into the restaurant already with E-Coli, or that the meat sat out too long unrefrigerated and it has salmonella. But because the place looks nice and clean we think it’s ok to eat there.
People have the tendency to use the “out of sight out of mind” attitude. I tend to have this attitude too. Which only means what we don’t know can’t hurt us. Unfortunately this does not hold true. What we don’t know can and will hurt us, like a filthy kitchen, or a food handler not washing their hands, or the food already contaminated with a bacteria before it ever hits the restaurant. These things will remain a mystery to us every time we eat out.
Most of the times you can eat out and never get sick. The other day we ate at a little hamburger joint that didn’t look like it would be a restaurant we should be eating in. But there were lots of locals eating in there and seemingly enjoying their food. Rule of thumb: If the locals eat there it should be ok to eat in. The place seemed a bit rundown and the walls were a bit dingy, but the food was good. We ate in there and never had a problem.
This post is going to be about eating from street vendors. Here in Cuenca, which is a hit or miss when eating from the street vendors. We explain why below. See tips below for safer eating practices when eating from street vendors anywhere in the world. As an update, (November 2011) just in case anyone is wondering, we've never gotten sick from eating in Cuenca, whether from restaurants or the street vendors. But we are really, really cautious. See our tips below.
Most vendors in Cuenca use gloves when they grab the food or a napkin to handle the food with, and if they don’t, we simply move on to the next street vendor that is using gloves or a napkin to handle the food with. We have noticed some vendors with dirty hands not using anything to pick up the food with and that isn’t a place you should eat at.
Here is our safe eating guidelines for eating from vendors and in restaurants here in Cuenca. BTW, we have never gotten sick and we hope that we never do get sick, but like I said, you are taking a risk when you eat out anywhere in the world.
•Meat and other foods should be grilled or deep fried right there on the spot. Eating French fries and grilled meat and other foods should not pose a problem unless they were already contaminated. Cooking the food thoroughly kills most bacteria.
•Be sure food handlers (street vendors) wear gloves or use a napkin if touching any food
•Never eat cooked foods that are just sitting out in room temperature, especially meat
•Hot foods should be kept hot and cold foods chilled
•Remember: cleanliness or newness of a place does not ensure you won’t get sick
•Tip: If the locals eat there then it is probably ok to eat there too. A well known fact is, tourists joints are usually where you will get sick because you’re on vacation and they won’t ever see you again
•Tip: If there is no soap in the restrooms then that means the food handlers aren’t using soap, unless they are bringing their own, but that is also very unlikely. If there is no soap in the restrooms you really shouldn’t eat there.
•If eating at a buffet don’t touch your finger food with the same hand you used the tongs with. Some people don’t wash their hands and they are using those tongs too
•Everyone should know this one. Wash your own hands before touching any food
•And the best way to ensure never getting sick when eating out? Don't eat out--stay home and eat
If you have any suggestions, comments or feedback, we’d love to hear from you Add your recommendations for staying healthy while eating from street vendors and eating out in restaurants.
Ciao…Take care all!