5 things to know about food safety and poisoning in Bangkok

November 09, 2017

If you're a newly-arrived expat still adjusting and settling in, you may have barely skimmed the surface of Bangkok's massive and exotic food scene.

The sheer variety of places, prices and types of cuisine available in the city can be mind-boggling if you haven't spent much time here. It's normal to have concerns about food safety and the risk of food poisoning.

Here are five things to know about safer dining in Bangkok.

1. Adjust and acclimate

Moving to a new city is stressful and disruptive for adults, couples, kids and pets. The same rule applies to your digestive system and intestinal tract. Each place you live has a unique blend of bacteria, germs, microbes and viruses, and over time you develop immunities to that unique blend.

The "Bangkok blend" will be different — in some cases, profoundly different — from previous home area, so your digestive system needs time to adjust and get acclimated. It's not uncommon to arrive in a new city and develop stomach aches and diarrhea in a matter of days. For at least the first few months in your new city, stick with familiar foods that your body already knows. And when you do make changes, make them gradually.

2. Mild food poisoning

Food poisoning is caused by eating contaminated, spoiled or toxic food that contains bacteria or viruses such as E.coli, Plesiomonas, or salmonella. The onset of symptoms typically begins around two to eight hours after ingesting the tainted food, and most cases turn out to be mild. Anyone can be affected, but the risk for food poisoning is greater for elderly adults, pregnant women, young children and people with chronic medical conditions.

In a typical case the patient experiences at least three or more of the following symptoms: abdominal cramps; diarrhea; fever; headaches; fatigue/weakness; loss of appetite; nausea; or vomiting. Limit your food intake to only basic, simple foods such as crackers or bread, but be sure to drink plenty of fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated.

Mild food poisoning usually resolves itself quickly without treatment. You should see a doctor if you don’t start to feel better after two days.

3. Recognizing severe cases

Though less common, severe food poisoning can be life threatening. Be sure to get immediate medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms: diarrhea that persists for more than three days; fever above 38.6°C (101.5°F); impaired speech or vision; or symptoms of severe dehydration such as dry mouth, passing little to no urine or difficulty digesting fluids.

4. Avoiding riskier foods

The list of possible sources of food poisoning is long, and the risk can't be reduced to zero. But most hazards can be avoided by taking a bit of extra care with these items:

  • Fruits and vegetables: Uncut fruits and raw vegetables need to be thoroughly washed and drained. To be on the safe side, avoid vegetables and salads at informal restaurants and street food outlets. Fresh fruit is safer when you buy it whole and do the washing, peeling and cutting yourself.
  • Fresh fish and seafood: Fresh seafood is abundant in Thailand. The key to making it safer is to cook it properly at sufficiently high temperatures. Eating raw or undercooked fish poses a much higher risk for food poisoning.
  • Water and ice: Bangkok's tap water is fine for things like brushing your teeth or doing the dishes, but bottled or filtered water sources are recommended for drinking and making ice cubes. Most restaurants have bottled water, and ice cubes generally come from safe sources. Whenever you're not quite sure, stick with the safer option.

5. More on food safety

Bumrungrad's "Healthy Living in Bangkok" guide is a useful resource for newcomers. The guide offers food safety tips and includes more details on food poisoning and foodborne illnesses.

Bangkok's amazing food scene is something to be savored, not feared. With a bit of caution and some common sense knowledge, you can look forward to plenty of amazing culinary experiences.

Special microsite for newcomers

If you're new to Bangkok, be sure to check out Bumrungrad's special microsite created especially for newly-arriving expatriates. You'll find useful information about various aspects most important to newcomers — information about Thailand's healthcare infrastructure, how to choose a doctor for your family and resources for parents planning to expand their families.

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