Ask Lonely Planet: Food safety in India

Follow the crowd and look out for popular places, particularly those patronised by families as these will probably be your best bet. Photo / File
Follow the crowd and look out for popular places, particularly those patronised by families as these will probably be your best bet. Photo / File

How careful do you have to be with food and drink in India? Is it better to get it all over and done with early and enjoy the rest of the trip? - Greg

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater write:

No trip to India would be complete with at least one dose of Delhi belly.

Diarrhoea is by far the most common ailment for travellers to India. In more than 80 per cent of cases the cause is bacterial, usually arising from contaminated food or drink. By following a few simple guidelines you can reduce the chances of it all turning to custard.

Never drink tap water. Bottled water is generally safe but check that the seal is intact and avoid ice unless you know it has been safely made. Be careful when drinking fruit juice, especially at food stalls, as they may have been watered down. Opt for juice that is pressed in front of you and steer clear of anything stored in a jug or served in a glass unless you're assured of high washing standards.

Don't be tempted by glistening pre-sliced melon and other fruit, which keeps its luscious veneer with a regular dousing of often-dubious water. When preparing food yourself, peel all fruit, cook vegetables and soak salads in iodine water for at least 20 minutes. Iodine is the best chemical purifier, although it should be avoided by pregnant women and those with thyroid complaints. Water filters should sieve out viruses but ensure yours has a chemical barrier such as iodine and a pore size of less than four microns. Boiling water is usually the most efficient method of purification.

India's cuisine is one of its joys but ease into it, allowing your tummy to adjust.

Follow the crowd and look out for popular places, particularly those patronised by families as these will probably be your best bet.

If possible, inspect the cooking utensils and ascertain how they are being cleaned. Eyeball the cooking oil to see if it's clean. If the pots or surfaces are dirty or there are squadrons of flies, beat a hasty retreat.

On the street, don't panic if your deep-fried snack is thrown back into the wok before serving. It's common practice to partly cook snacks then finish them off to order. Frying them hot again should kill any germs.

If, or more likely when, you are struck down with a bout of traveller's diarrhoea, stay well hydrated. Rehydration solutions such as Gastrolyte are best for this. Antibiotics such as norfloxacin, cioprofloxacin or azithromycin should kill the bacteria quickly. These are essential first-aid kit items for any trip to India. Loperamide (such as Imodium and Lopex) is just a "stopper" and doesn't get to the cause of the problem. It can, however, be helpful for long bus and train journeys.

Two friends and I wish to travel around the United States for four months. We intend buying a vehicle in Los Angeles and selling it in New York at the end of the trip. What is the best way to go about such a purchase? Can this be done online, or is that risky? Are there agents we could trust to help us or should we ask a friend? - Courtney Shannon

For a trip of four months or less, buying a car in the United States is usually much more trouble than it's worth. We have done it although it took us two weeks to sort out a car and a week to get shot of it at the end of the trip.

Don't buy on the internet, which is too risky. Things will be whole lot easier if you have a stateside friend or relative who can offer advice and provide a fixed address for registration, licensing and insurance.

Vehicle rules and regulations vary from state to state and are generally more stringent in California where you'll need a smog certificate on top of everything else.

This is the seller's responsibility so don't buy a car without this necessary paperwork.

You may like to consider buying your car in Nevada. It's only a few hours' drive away and the process is easier than in California. Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum has lots of detailed advice on buying a car in the US.

It's far less hassle to rent a car, although you'll get stung with steep charges for dropping the car off in a different place.

- NZ Herald


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