Food Safety

Not every place is as allergy-aware as we might like, so if your child has say an allergy to peanuts, you would do well to learn the word for peanuts in Chinese, or better yet, have someone write it down, so you can point and inquire even in restaurants where you may not have a language in common with the staff. Speaking of peanuts, don't forget that in some places it is common to cook in peanut oil, which may also trigger some allergies.

You might be interested in what looks like a really useful series of travel books called Eat Smart. There are five volumes so far—Mexico, Indonesia, Poland, Turkey and Brazil—giving you all sorts of advice on what to eat, what stuff in the market is called and even recipes to duplicate a new favorite once you get home.

They might also be of value to help you avoid foods that you might not like, or which might be unhealthful to you because of an allergy, for example.

We have in some places acted out an elaborate pantomime and worked out way into the kitchen to try and make sure nothing that shouldn't get into our kids' meals did not get in (kitchens are also fascinating places as long as they are reasonably safe, and are usually cool places for kids to check out if allowed. Watch out in China where woks are often set over open flames, which by the way are cool to see even for grownups).

If the water is no good to drink, maybe it is also not much help in washing fruits and vegetables. A lot of places in Asia use human wastes (by which I mean poop) as fertilizers, which means washing needs to do a whole lot more than dust off a carrot for you.

One old rule of thumb is if you cannot open or peel it, or if you did not wash it yourself, then don't eat it.

Thus, when in doubt, bananas you peel yourself are a better bet than a apple that comes to the table cored and sliced. Even if the fruit looks clean, it may have been cut on a dirty cutting board, or with a dirty knife.

Cooked stuff is better when it is hot, the hotter the better. Sometimes a smaller place is a safer bet than a bigger place if you can watch the food being made, and when you can feel that what you are eating is being cooked right now, as opposed to being made earlier and reheated. Some smaller places also use paper or plastic plates, which means you are more likely the first diner to have the plate, as opposed to something that was washed casually in water you wouldn't want to drink.

The bit about eating food cooked when you order it also suggests that it is safer to eat in a busier place at the time when most other people are eating there. Go late, or to an unpopular place, and you might be more likely to get something that has been laying around since the lunch rush ended two hours ago.

Think the whole washing thing through: dirty water plus poor hygiene plus sloppy washing equals trouble. Avoid high-risk foods like salads, uncooked fruits and vegetables and the like. Seafood must be fresh or bad things happen; don't eat sushi 200 miles from the sea unless you are real confident the fish saw water recently.

The Diet Channel offers some good general resources on children's nutrition.

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