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Avoiding food poisoning in Thailand, this is how! (local POV)

Insider Tips from a Local Thai Expert for a Safe Dining Experience in Thailand

The final tip for avoiding food poisoning in Thailand might raise a few eyebrows, but I've conducted enough experiments to feel confident about sharing it as a cautionary note about food poisoning in Thailand!

Are you a bit jittery about the prospect of food poisoning while savoring Thailand’s culinary delights? Whether it’s the hygiene factor or the notorious spiciness, it’s essential to keep your stomach in check. If you’re someone with a delicate digestive system, like even indulging in Indian or Thai cuisine back in your homeland can lead to a nasty bout of stomach trouble. Fear not, though—these tried-and-true tips will help you navigate the culinary landscape like a seasoned pro. I’ve got over 30 years of trial and error experience, because yes, even as a local like myself, I can still end up with food poisoning from time to time if I’m not careful!

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Some of these sound like no-brainers, right?” Well, some of them are, but believe me, they’ve saved countless travelers, even locals like myself, from the dreaded bellyache. As simple as they may seem, they’re crucial, and I’ve seen them work time and time again. So, take a moment to absorb these nuggets of wisdom—they might just be your ticket to a carefree culinary adventure and avoiding food poisoning in Thailand!

Tip #1 Prioritize Hot, Fresh Meals to avoid food poisoning in Thailand:

First and foremost, opt for freshly cooked food – preferably items you’ve witnessed being prepared or warmed up on the grill. This rule becomes even more crucial when you’re delving into street food or trying out a cozy, off-the-beaten-path restaurant. Your best bet for avoiding food poisoning in thailand is to ensure your meal is served piping hot and freshly made. With my extensive experience (having been born and raised here in Thailand :)), I’ve never encountered food poisoning when sticking to hot, freshly cooked dishes, except for one unfortunate incident, which I’ll share in the last tip.

avoid food poisoning in Thailand by choose freshly cooked meal

Tip #2 Seek Out Bustling Establishments:

When it comes to items like ice, papaya salads, or anything spicy, your best bet is a bustling shop. Allow me to share a cautionary tale—even as a local, I once fell victim to food poisoning after indulging in a spicy salad (papaya, salted egg, and sausages included) from an unfamiliar, enticing-looking street vendor. Lesson learned: opt for places with a steady stream of customers, whether it’s for beverages or delectable street eats.

While it can’t provide an absolute guarantee against food poisoning, if a shop has many returning customers, you can have some confidence that most of them haven’t experienced food poisoning from eating there.

Tip #3 Beware of Chili Vinegar to avoid food poisoning in Thailand:

Exercise extra caution with the chili vinegar often found among the condiments at noodle shops. It’s surprisingly a top culprit for food-related troubles, even among Thai locals. Here’s the scoop: in less-than-pristine or less frequented establishments, they often forget to replace the chili vinegar regularly. The result? That seemingly harmless condiment might have been sitting there for months, potentially harboring harmful bacteria. As a fellow Thai who adores seasoning my noodle soup generously, I do still indulge—but only in shops I trust, ones I’ve frequented before or those bustling with patrons. Safety first!

avoid food poisoning in Thailand, you should be careful about the chili vinegar

Tip #4 Adjust to the Spice Level:

If your palate isn’t accustomed to the fiery Thai spiciness, consider opting for milder options. Surprisingly, I don’t hear many of my Thai friends complaining about spice-induced stomach aches. However, I’ve got pals from various corners of the globe—Americans, Japanese, Australians, you name it—and at least one of them usually ends up with a bellyache due to the spice factor. It’s a learning curve, really. 

So, keep this in mind: even if the food is impeccably clean, the level of spiciness in Thai cuisine can be quite intense, and it’s distinct from what you might find in Mexican or Indian dishes. Be cautious when placing your order to ensure a harmonious dining experience. If you’re feeling a bit anxious about not knowing the Thai language and need to order food while you’re in Thailand, we’ve got some handy tips on how to navigate the situation even if you don’t speak the language.

Tip #5 The Oyster Conundrum:

Now, this last tip might raise an eyebrow or two and could potentially tarnish the reputation of a particular city, but it’s essential to share my experience. Picture this: oysters in Pattaya, whether raw or cooked. On more than one occasion, I’ve fallen seriously ill after partaking in this delicacy. And I wasn’t alone—during one memorable oyster omelette feast with my friends, everyone who indulged in oysters experienced a bout of sickness, while those who abstained remained perfectly fine. A colleague of mine had a similar story, vowing never to touch Pattaya’s oysters again. 

You see, Pattaya is a picturesque beach city, and one might assume that its seafood is not just fresh but perhaps even fresher than that found in Bangkok, which lacks a direct sea connection. Yet, somehow, this pattern has persisted throughout my life, and I’ve learned to steer clear of Pattaya’s oysters after several unfortunate episodes.

This point is especially crucial to remember during the summer in Thailand. You see, seafood can spoil pretty darn fast in that scorching Thai heat. If you want to know more about Thailand’s weather and seasons, check out our blog right here.

avoid food poisoning in Thailand, you should be careful about eating oyster

When it comes to drinking water or tap water in Thailand…

Can tap water in Thailand be consumed safely? Or should you not, to avoid food poisoning in Thailand?

In Thailand, tap water is not suitable for drinking due to its chlorine content, even though it is not inherently dirty. It’s not meant for consumption. You can use it for various purposes like washing your face without any adverse effects. 

If you’re curious about what the locals do, many households in Thailand, including ours, use water filter machines. And when we’re on the go, we typically purchase bottled water, which is readily available at numerous 7-Eleven stores located every few kilometers. Plus, water in Thailand is quite affordable.

When it comes to other beverages that you purchase from street vendors…

Personally, I’ve never experienced food poisoning from consuming beverages from street vendors, but I’m aware that many tourists have concerns about it. In my experience, the issue I’ve encountered is related more to shaved ice desserts. So, the key thing to watch out for is often the ice, not the drinks or beverages. For instance, if you’re ordering Thai tea from a street vendor, the tea is typically made freshly and served hot. It won’t cause you trouble.

Here’s what I typically do to avoid any issues with the ice. I follow the same principle as mentioned earlier: vendors with a substantial customer base can generally be trusted. I also take a quick look into their ice bucket. If it appears clean and the ice looks solid and not melting, that’s usually a good sign. Additionally, avoiding food poisoning in Thailand, I would pay attention to the tools they use to scoop the ice. Some shops may use old and visibly dirty equipment, which is a red flag.

Is it safe to eat raw or undercooked seafood in Thailand if you want to avoid food poisoning in Thailand?

The answer is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to eating raw seafood in Thailand.

Yes, you can definitely enjoy raw seafood in Thailand. I personally indulge in raw sashimi from Japanese restaurants regularly, and every now and then, I venture into trying the popular spicy Thai shrimp or oyster salad. However, I make sure to pick restaurants with bustling crowds and high ratings. Though I don’t rely entirely on reviews since I once got food poisoning from the super popular crab meat fried rice joint with a perpetual line out front. I tend to stick to the places I’m familiar with because they’ve never let me down.

So, here’s my advice to foreigners: If you have a sensitive stomach and are avoiding food poisoning in Thailand, start by sticking to fine-dining establishments or the bigger places in the mall. I hardly know anyone who’s had trouble with food poisoning from these spots. On the other hand, if you have an iron stomach, you can venture into the world of street vendors, but make sure to choose the ones with a bustling crowd. That’s not only a guarantee of loyal customers but also a sign that their ingredients are fresh and constantly replenished.

To sum it all up, you should be cautious when it comes to avoiding food poisoning in Thailand:

Specific food items or dishes you should avoid to prevent food poisoning when traveling Thailand.

First thing first, I still indulge in all of these despite the risks, thanks to the five tips I shared earlier (except for tap water, of course). You can enjoy them too, just as long as you keep those tips in mind – that way, you should steer clear of food poisoning in Thailand.

  • Tap water: tap water in Thailand is not safe for drinking. It’s important to avoid consuming tap water and instead opt for bottled water or other safe drinking options for avoiding food poisoning in Thailand.
  • Chilli vinegar: It’s like this pickled chilli in vinegar that just hangs out in the seasoning bowls for days, never getting refreshed. Let me tell you, this is easily in my top three culprits for giving me food poisoning in Thailand.
  • Uncooked food: Whether it’s veggies or meats. Those Thai spicy salads, be it papaya salad or any other kinds, they’re right up there in my top three reasons for getting food poisoning. I tend to stick to the places I’ve eaten at before or opt for the ones bustling with customers to play it safe.
  • Oyster in Pattaya: I understand it’s a touchy subject, but about 7 out of 10 times I’ve had oysters, whether they were raw or cooked, I’ve ended up with a nasty case of food poisoning in Pattaya. And I’m not the only one who’s experienced this; one of my friends mentioned the same thing.

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