Food poisoning! What to watch out for in 2012

food poisoningFor many people–myself included–one of the most enjoyable aspects of travel is experiencing how other cultures eat. Even if you’re only traveling as far as the other end of the state, chances are there’s a regional specialty, street food, farmers market, or restaurant that’s a destination in its own right.

Sometimes, however, the pickings are slim, or no matter how delicious the food, the odds are just stacked against you. As Anthony Bourdain put it on a recent episode of his new series, The Layover, “…if there’s not a 50-percent chance of diarrhea, it’s not worth eating.”

Gross, perhaps, but gluttonous travelers know there’s truth in those words. Bourdain happened to be referring to a late-night drunk binge at one of Amsterdam‘s infamous FEBO fast food automats (above), so with that in mind, I present this photographic homage to the things we eat on the road, despite knowing better. Walk softly, and carry a big bottle of Imodium

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[Photo credit: Flickr user .waldec]

Eggnog: Where does it come from?

I’ve long been a fan of spiced ‘nog. It’s one of the creamiest, best tastes in the world. For over 300 years, eggnog has been a Christmas staple, and I just had to get to the bottom of the mystery of ‘why’? What I discovered in my research of the origin of eggnog was quite startling. While ‘nog definitely came from Europe circa early 17th century, the term “eggnog” and the etymology of the word is perhaps the more interesting story.

The original eggnog was a mixture of milk, egg, spices, and wine (in parts of Europe like France), beer (in England), or sherry (in Spain). The alcoholic portion of the drink depends on how you interpret the “nog” in the name. That is because “nog” could mean the Old English term for a strong beer, or it could be interpreted from Middle English as “noggin,” the wooden mug that the drink was served in.
It seems quite unusual (and kind of unappetizing) to me that, before it arrived on America’s shores, eggnog was made with wine, beer, or sherry. Americans — the drunks that we are — decided to spike the drink with more concentrated spirits such as rum and brandy. Our first President, George Washington, would make the drink so strong that only the burliest of drinkers could handle it. The term for rum is actually “grog,” but “eggrog” doesn’t sound very good at all, now, does it? (It makes me think of a lumpy, spiked oatmeal — yuck!) Americans also boil their eggnog so as to avoid getting salmonella from the raw egg.

Even more variations of traditional eggnog are popping up around the globe. In Louisiana, they replace the rum with bourbon. In Puerto Rico, they add coconut milk. In Mexico, it’s a hard drink, as it’s mixed with grain alcohol. In Peru, it’s made with “pisco,” a local brandy.

Whatever the form or unique flavor, drinking eggnog is a Christmas tradition because of its warming effect and generally sweet, smooth, and spicy taste which make it a perfect holiday drink.

[Information was gathered from Wikipedia, About.com, and TheKitchenProject.com]

Mutant Germs a Real Killer for Space Tourism

Okay, so mutant germs and space tourism don’t really have too much in common. But you should still get ready for some real-life science fiction that has to do with space travel: when scientists sent salmonella up on a space shuttle, they found that it killed mice more quickly than it did on earth. And when the salmonella got back on terra firma, researchers discovered that 167 genes had changed in the space-traveling salmonella. And it took about one-third of the new, mutant salmonella to kill half the mice as regular salmonella.

The Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology at Arizona State University doesn’t want you to panic, and is taking a positive spin on the whole gene-mutation situation. “Learning more about changes in germs has the potential to lead to novel new countermeasures for infectious disease,” gushes associate professor Cheryl Nickerson. And novel new measures for biological warfare, if you ask me. And has anyone here seen Outbreak? And what’s happening to the genes inside the astronauts? Anyone remember Pod People? Genes are mutating, people!

The Associated Press’ article has a lot of intriguing information, so if you’re curious about the science of it all, head there. As for me, I like the drama of the fear factor.

Food Poisoning: Meet the Bugs

There is nothing like an episode of food poisoning that can wreck one’s trip, change priorities, or–if it takes more than two days–even reconsider one’s view on euthanasia. I have been there many times, either myself or in spirit with other people. Yes, there was the cheap sushi in New York, the grocery store pre-cut water melon in Portland, the chicken satay in Amsterdam, the sandwich at Arby’s, and the Lord-knows-what in Egypt (this one lasted for weeks and I contemplated death several times).

Because I like to know my enemy, I enjoyed this article on ivillage.co.uk entitled “How to avoid food poisoning while travelling”. Most of the tips are quite obvious, although often hard to fully control: washing your hands, avoiding tap water (ice, fresh vegetables washed in fresh water), avoiding uncooked meat and unpasteurized milk, etc. The piece I found interesting is the description of the different “bugs” and their symptoms: Norovirus, E-coli (see picture), Salmonella, Campylobacter and Bacillus cereus. The little buggers look so harmless on screen…