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How To Avoid Illness Eating in Markets and Restaurants in Oaxaca

Visitors to Oaxaca should not be afraid to drink water in restaurants, eat fresh produce, or quench their thirst with drinks with ice. In fact even street fare can be enjoyed. This is not medical advice, but helpful hints to assist vacationers to the city and reduce the likelihood of gastrointestinal problems. Do exercise caution since Mexico is third world, where health and cleanliness standards are often different than those in the west.

Ten Tips for Avoiding Becoming Ill While Indulging in Food in Oaxaca

Here are ten tips which might make vacationing in Oaxaca a richer culinary experience than it would otherwise be, although perhaps adding some paranoia:

  • Restaurants in Oaxaca use bottled water whether serving it plain or as a fruit juice mix, and in making ice cubes.
  • Restaurants in Oaxaca disinfect produce using a special disinfectant or a bleach solution. Of course things do slip through the cracks and staff can be sloppy…anywhere.
  • If tempted to eat on the street or in a market in Oaxaca, watch for the server’s cleanliness and food handling. Seeing a 19 liter blue plastic bottle alongside the eatery means it’s fairly safe to assume bottled water is being used. But since a bottle of disinfectant will not be on display, to play it safe have quesadillas without greens.
  • With the popular corn on the cob or kernels in a cup (elotes and esquites), if the water is boiling, one is probably safe….but chew the kernels well, since they are not the easiest food to digest even when stomachs are not under stress from unusually rich and spicy indulging.
  • If in a marketplace toward day’s end and tempted to have a meat plate, note that the beef or pork has probably not been under refrigeration. If it’s chicken, again remember the time of day, determine if it will have to be reheated, and in any event watch to ensure the poultry is well grilled. Does the sauce contain peppers which have not been cooked?
  • Rather than buy a cup of peeled mango or grapefruit on the street, peel and cut the fruit yourself. One never knows if the vendor’s knife has been cleaned with purified water, how long the fruit has been exposed, or if the preparer’s hands have gone over the peel and then onto the naked fruit. Why trust the preparation methods? Controlling the cutting and peeling provides more assurance. Buy a knife and use it to peel fruit, even if there’s a small sticker on the apple or peach noting American produce. Others have previously handled it.
  • Anything with a wrapper such as ice cream or candy, should be safe.
  • Urban locals are also vigilant, so if there are a number of what would appear to be middle class Oaxacans at an eatery, it’s probably fine to assume it has a reputation for safe fare. Many street-side haunts exist around the city and popular market day restaurants.
  • One can become ill dining at Oaxaca’s white linen restaurants too. They’re not immune to running afoul of rules of safe food preparation.

And Finally, What To Do At the First Sign of Illness While Vacationing in Oaxaca

  • At the first sign of stomach problems, don’t wait to see if they dissipate. The vacation doesn’t have to be a wipe-out. Pharmacies have effective non-prescription meds. Ask the pharmacist or your accommodations host for a recommendation as to the medication of choice. But the much better solution is to obtain the name of a doctor accustomed to treating such ailments.

Enjoy visiting Oaxaca, indulge at will following these simple guidelines, and don’t forget to eat with the locals if the opportunity arises.