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How Do I Get Typhoid from Food and Beverages?

Updated: Mar 27


Ever gotten severely ill from food or water while traveling? It might be typhoid fever—a deadly bacterial illness transmitted via contamination. Though rare in sanitized areas, it's a significant risk in places with poor hygiene, affecting millions annually with life-threatening complications. 


Understanding its causes and prevention is crucial for safe travels, especially for food enthusiasts. Don't let ignorance ruin your journey; learn how to protect against this dangerous pathogen on your next culinary adventure!


Quick Review: What is Typhoid Fever?

Typhoid fever, caused by Salmonella typhi, affects the intestinal tract and bloodstream, akin to other Salmonella infections. Symptoms include high fever, fatigue, headache, abdominal pain, and gastrointestinal disturbances. 


If untreated, it can lead to severe complications and death, as bacteria spread to organs. Antibiotic resistance poses challenges in typhoid treatment, making prompt medical attention crucial to combat this potentially fatal illness.


Boiling Water Can Kill Typhoid Bacteria



Salmonella typhi bacteria, notorious for their resilience, can persist for weeks in water and food at room temperature. However, bacteria rapidly die off when heated above 149°F (65°C).


Boiling water for at least one minute ensures the eradication of any typhoid bacteria, as well as other pathogens, rendering it safe for consumption and food preparation, serving as a simple yet effective measure to safeguard against this harmful pathogen. You should boil longer at high altitudes because water boils at a lower temperature at altitude. 


What to Eat and What to Avoid to Prevent Typhoid



Any food or drink that has come into contact with contaminated water or has been prepared with poor hygiene practices can transmit typhoid fever. 


High-risk foods and drinks include:

  • Raw fruits and vegetables

  • Raw dairy products

  • Raw or undercooked shellfish

  • Untreated municipal water supplies

  • Beverages or ice made with contaminated water

  • Street food or food from unhygienic vendors


Cooked hot foods are generally safe, as long as they haven't been re-contaminated by handling or cross-contamination after cooking.


What Kind of Fruits and Vegetables Are Less Likely to Spread Typhoid?



Fresh produce with inedible peel or shells that you peel yourself carry less risk, as the inedible outer layers protect the inner, edible portions. 


Examples include:

  • Bananas

  • Oranges and other citrus

  • Melons (e.g., watermelon, cantaloupe)

  • Pineapples

  • Avocados

  • Mangoes

  • Papayas

  • Nuts in shells

  • Squashes (e.g., pumpkins, butternut squash)

  • Root vegetables (e.g., carrots, potatoes)


How to Prevent Typhoid From Food and Beverages



Avoiding contaminated food and drink is the best defense against typhoid. 


Recommended tips include:

  • Only eat hot, freshly cooked foods – Avoid foods that have been sitting at room temperature. Consuming foods that are served hot and freshly prepared reduces the likelihood of bacterial contamination.

  • Peel it yourself – By peeling fruits and vegetables yourself, you minimize the risk of ingesting bacteria present on the outer surface.

  • Use bottled water when hygiene is questionable – Don't drink municipal water in high-risk areas. Bottled water ensures that you're not exposed to potentially contaminated water sources.

  • Wash hands frequently – Proper hand hygiene is essential for preventing the spread of typhoid bacteria. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling food, after using the restroom, and after touching surfaces that may be contaminated.

  • Choose reputable food establishments – When dining out, opt for restaurants and food vendors with good hygiene practices and a clean food preparation environment. Avoid street food vendors whose hygiene standards may be questionable.

  • Use utensils and straws – Whenever possible, use utensils and straws to consume beverages and foods instead of drinking directly from cups or bottles. This reduces the risk of contamination from hands or surfaces.

  • If you do get typhoid, avoid handling food for others – If you're suffering from typhoid fever, best to avoid handling food intended for consumption by others as this minimizes the risk of transmitting the bacteria to others and helps prevent further spread of the illness in the community.


Who Should Receive the Typhoid Vaccine?



The typhoid vaccine is advised for individuals at elevated risk of contracting the disease, including:


  • Travelers visiting areas with prevalent typhoid, especially if staying with locals or consuming street food.

  • Those working in regions with frequent typhoid cases, such as certain healthcare settings.

  • Laboratory personnel exposed to Salmonella typhi.

  • Individuals in close contact with active typhoid cases.


Note: The vaccine isn't 100% effective. Hygiene practices are crucial and are as effective in preventing Typhoid Fever. 


Schedule an appointment for a travel health consultation and travel vaccines, including typhoid, at your nearest Away Clinic location. Our travel health specialists can advise what vaccinations are needed based on your specific destination and health history.


Sources

  • Howard, G., Bartram, J., Water, S., & World Health Organization. (2003). Domestic water quantity, service level and health.

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