cooked food

10 Tips For Eating Street Food Without Getting Sick

Just a heads up — Wellness Bum is reader supported, which means that we may receive a commission if you make a purchase using links within this article from qualifying purchases. It never affects your price or what we pick to recommend.

Last updated:

Street food is a great way to save money while traveling, but it can also be a risky way to get sick. If you’re not careful, you could end up with a nasty case of food poisoning. In this blog post, we will give you 10 tips for avoiding getting sick while eating street food. Follow these tips and you’ll be able to enjoy all the delicious street food your travels have to offer!

Table of Contents

    Food is the best way to get to know a countries culture rather intimately. It is a way to to start conversations and understand it’s history. It is widely recognized that an inherent part of any travel is the street food experience. It’s fast, fresh (hopefully), and a great way to see how locals eat. But, when it comes to adventurous eating, everyone, even those who don’t travel, need to know how to eat street food safely.

    There are still some rules to eating street food safely to avoid an upset, whether at a dosa stall in Bombay or a dog cart in New York City. There are some tips such as eating at the most popular street vendors with the longest lines, and making sure the food has not been sitting around. Some other ideas are just common sense, like avoiding mayonnaise and eating more vegetable and fewer meat dishes. By following these unspoken rules and using some common sense, you’ll be able to enjoy street food (safely).

    street food vietnam

    1. Follow the local crowds

    One of the best ways to eat street food safely is to take note of where the local crowds eat. If a vendor is extremely quiet or seems to be avoided by the locals, chances are that the food is not overly good, or worst case, that the food is unsafe. In short, observing your surroundings and being extremely careful about where and what you eat is your best bet at circumventing any street food-related health issues. Ask the locals, such as a taxi or tuk-tuk driver, for a recommendation if you’re looking for somewhere to buy food. They will most likely recommend places that they frequent.

    2. Ask the locals

    Ask the locals such as a taxi or tuk tuk driver for a recommendation if you’re looking for somewhere to buy food. They will most likely recommend places that they frequent.

    3. Watch your food being cooked

    One of the best tips for eating street food safely is to observe how it’s prepared. If the food is stored out in the blazing sun and washed in tap water before being served raw, then run away. Not literally, but you’ll most likely want to eat elsewhere.

    4. Learn to love spice

    I have no scientific proof that chili sauce kills bacteria, but I’m inclined to believe that our copious use of hot sauces has served our stomachs well prophylactically. But, go easy on it if you aren’t used to it because that will cause an irritable bowel.

    5. Don’t eat anything that has been washed in tap water

    Many seasoned travelers have long since learned how to enjoy street food, and tend not to make rookie mistakes like eating meat or drinking the tap water. Something that the majority of people don’t think about, however, is that a lot of fresh foods such as salads and fruits are often washed in unsafe tap water, making them unsafe to eat. You also need to be careful if you order soft drinks or alcohol from a street vendor, as any ice provided to go with your drink is most likely also made from tap water.

    6. Be wary of vendors who don’t follow basic hygiene rules.

    Observing a vendor’s hygiene practices is one of the most important tips for enjoying street food safely, as one can assume that the food is only as clean as the person cooking it. Making sure that the vendor is handling the food in a hygienic manner and not cross contaminating the vegetables with the raw meats is a great way to ensure that you don’t get sick. Also, make sure that the person handling food, just handles food; and the person handling money, just handles money. Just remember, if a vendor isn’t following basic hygiene rules, it’s best to avoid their food. This includes things like washing their hands and keeping their cooking area clean.

    You may also like to make sure that you wash your hands and follow proper hygienic practices before eating, however, or you may be making yourself sick!

    7. Don’t eat street food that has been sitting out for too long

    It’s best to stick to cooked foods. Raw foods are more likely to cause food poisoning because they haven’t been through the cooking process, which kills bacteria. So, if you’re unsure about a dish, it’s better to stick with something that has been cooked and one that hasn’t been sitting out for too long. The longer food sits out, the more likely it is to spoil or develop bacteria. So, if you’re unsure about a dish, it’s better to stick with something that has been cooked fresh.

    8. Beware of tempting fruit shakes and drinks made with unpurified water

    Sure, those stands may look so tempting, but don’t risk buying a fruit shake off the street unless you are sure the water (or ice!) has been purified. There’s no need to deny yourself this pleasure completely, but just ask first or order it from a tourist-oriented restaurant with filtered water clearly marked on the menu.

    Avoid ice in your drinks. Ice is often made from tap water, which may not be safe to drink. If you can, avoid having ice in your drinks. If you must have ice, make sure it’s from a bottle or can and that the vendor hasn’t added any extra water to it.

    9. Let your body adjust to local cuisine

    Depending on where you’re traveling, it is sometimes important to let your body get used to the cuisine before ordering any outlandish street foods. In Thailand, for example, the locals tend to enjoy their food somewhat spicy, which can be too much for a foreigner’s stomach. One of the most practical tips for enjoying street food is, therefore to give your stomach a little time to get with the program before you let the gastro good times roll.

    10. Avoid dairy products and foods made with mayonnaise

    Dairy products can be a breeding ground for bacteria, so it’s best to avoid them if possible. If you must have dairy, make sure it’s from a reputable source and that the vendor hasn’t added any extra water to it.

    Mayonnaise is one of those food items that spoil quickly so, if you’ve never eaten from that street vendor before, avoid it.

    Conclusion

    Street food is a great way to save money while traveling, but it can also be a risky way to get sick. Ultimately, trust your gut. If a vendor or dish looks suspicious, it’s probably best to avoid it. Sometimes, the best way to avoid getting sick is by trusting your gut instinct. By following these 10 tips, you’ll be able to enjoy street food without having to worry about getting sick!

    This article was first published April 2014 and updated by our published August 2022.

    Hi, I’m Valerie!

    I'm an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-200), offering guidance to high achievers in aligning their lifestyle with well-being through daily wellness and self-care routines, promoting balance and harmony. Join me at Wellness Bum for tips on living well, and consider subscribing to my newsletter or booking a coaching session.