Apr. 7 is World Health Day and the focus this year is on food safety. Living in Vietnam, this is a particular topic of interest as many of us are either eating street food or going to the supermarkets to buy the food that we consume every day.

 

A lot of us wonder, “Is it ok to eat this? How do I know it’s safe? Dr. Brian, Medical Director at Family Medical Practice Hanoi, answers some commonly asked questions.

 

Dr. Brian, how dangerous is it really to eat from food stalls in Hanoi?

 

Where we eat often determines the risk of developing food poisoning. So eating ‘on the street’ from many of the roadside restaurants can substantially increase the risk for all expatriate Hanoians. It can also be difficult to determine what foods actually caused the sickness. Most of the bacterial causes of diarrhoea and vomiting, such as salmonella, incubate from between one to five days, although staphylococcal infection from cream sauces and pastries can develop with in a few hours of ingestion. On the other hand, parasitic diseases may take one to two weeks to develop symptoms. Viral hepatitis A from contaminated shellfish may take up to ome month before symptoms are noted.

 

We have all suffered from mild stomach upsets. When should we seek medical advice?

 

The classic symptoms of food poisoning are diarrhoea and vomiting, maybe with cramps and fever as well. If the diarrhoea persists for more than a day, is initially profuse within the first 24 hours, contains blood and there is either significant abdominal pain and / or fever, then you should seek medical advice right away.

 

What can I do to prevent or greatly reduce the likelihood of food poisoning?

 

— Avoid raw or undercooked meat, poultry, fish or shellfish, raw or undercooked eggs or foods that may contain them, raw sprouts, beans and herbs, unpasteurized juices and ciders, milk and milk products.

 

— Thoroughly wash your hands often.

 

— Keep raw edibles away from other foods to prevent cross-contamination. You can kill harmful organisms in most foods by cooking them to temperatures between 145 F (62.8 C) and 165 F (73.9 C).

 

— Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods within two hours of purchasing or preparing them. Do not thaw foods at room temperature, but defrost them in the refrigerator or microwave.

 

— If you aren't sure if a food has been prepared, served or stored safely, discard it. Food that looks ‘ok’ and smells normal may in fact be unsafe!

 

Dr. Brian McNaull is the Medical Director at the Family Medical Practice Hanoi, which also has locations in Vietnam’s other major cities. For information or assistance call (04) 3843 0748 (Hanoi), (08) 3822 7848 (Ho Chi Minh City) or (0511) 3582 699 (Danang). Alternatively, click on vietnammedicalpractice.com

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