5 Tricks for Eating Street Food Safely
You can have your char kway teow and eat it too. Here's how to dodge food poisoning but still enjoy some of the world's best cheap eats
1 Follow the locals.
In a busy marketplace, you can often tell if a stall is reputable based on the line. But pay attention: Mexico City street-food guide Lesley Téllez avoids stalls that draw a primarily young—and less cautious—clientele. Instead, she looks for “a mix of workers, policemen and older customers.” And knowing local mealtimes means you can beat the crowds to get the freshest foods.
2 Cleanliness counts.
“Keep an eye out for signs of cross-contamination,” says Douglas Powell, professor of food safety at Kansas State University. Check that prep surfaces look clean, cold foods are kept on ice and raw foods are stored separately from cooked. Téllez prefers stands where vendors who handle food don’t touch money.
3 Bring your own utensils.
There’s no way to tell if chopsticks or forks have been given more than a quick rinse.
4 If possible, watch your food being cooked.
And avoid precooked seafood in particular, advises Jeff Koehler, author of the forthcoming cookbook Morocco (Chronicle Books). Dishes containing raw meat, and ice-based drinks that may have been made with unfiltered water, are off-limits.
5 Look for cooking methods
that reduce microbes. Pickling vegetables and using citrus juices can reduce the levels of dangerous microorganisms, Powell points out, but they won’t remove your risk entirely. Some spices, such as chilies, turmeric and epazote, a Mexican herb, also have antibacterial properties.