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Experts: How safe is restaurant food?

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Jkh
Washington DC
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Experts: How safe is restaurant food?

We are deeply concerned about reports we have from our friend who visits Bejiing regularly and her warnings about restaurant food. She claims that unless we are very selective we could suffer from parasitic bloody diarrhea. She eats only in hotel restaurants and restaurants that are fairly expensive. She warns us not to eat at popular local restaurants, or at restaurants recommended by guides because the locals have stomachs that are used to the food. She said to avoid all street food. She claims that we could easily pick up a parasite that could ruin our entire vacation. As a rule, when we travel, we avoid hotel restaurants and look for the local ones. This poses a big dilemma for us, and we would appreciate your advice.

Edited: 07 February 2011, 23:03
Miami Beach, Florida
Destination Expert
for Shanghai Region
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1. Re: Experts: How safe is restaurant food?

Your friend must have had an unfortunate experience without medication available to cure the problem. This is a very isolated case. We rarely get food poisoning reports here on the China Forum, very seldom.

Eating a hamburger in the USA is probably more dangerous what with all the recalls of beef ground up in the big factories and sold in plastic tubes or frozen patties.

Beijing food is as safe as anywhere in China. The food should be very well cooked, as most Chinese food is except for appetizers in restaurants which are traditionally cooked (usually) and then chilled. I eat in self-serve noodle shops, one step above street food, but do not eat the street food, although many do. You get the real Chinese cooking in the less expensive restaurants, so please go to the white linen places where you can eat for 80 Yuan and above per person. You will see these places filled with extended Chinese families. If it is filled with tourists, move on.

You are correct in avoiding hotel restaurants which are charging you for their overhead mostly, not the food. Tell your concierge you want some suggestions on reasonably priced white-linen places where middle class Chinese families eat.

Go to your medical doctor and tell him/her you are concerned about "bugs" in China and if you could get a prescription for a few Cipro 500 mg. I usually get a dozen or so for less than $5. If you get an upset, take just one and almost all the bacteria are killed. Do not wait a day or two for it to get established in your system. Kill it right off. In my several dozen trips to China, I think I have taken two or three Cipro in a total span of over one year in China.

Of course, I am not a doctor and please do not rely on my advice. See your family doctor and get some heavy-duty antibiotics and take only if needed, not as a prophylactic.

Sherbrooke, Canada
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2. Re: Experts: How safe is restaurant food?

I have had 100s of meal all over China and only recall being sick one time over bad shrimps. Not bad odds. About 300,000 expats live in Beijing and we eat out all the timr.

Your friend is somewhat paranoid.

Xiamen, China
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3. Re: Experts: How safe is restaurant food?

I heard similar stories from my Singaporean colleagues, claiming that they always got food poisoning in China so they eat only at hotel restaurants, one even told me he drinks only bottle water imported from Europe!

True or not I don't know, I agreed street food is not very safe, but local restaurants are mostly okay, of course you should avoid those that looks too filthy.

Manila, Philippines
Destination Expert
for Hong Kong
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4. Re: Experts: How safe is restaurant food?

I lived in Beijing for almost a year and didn't encounter any problem with their food. I ate everything from high-end, mid-range and even the occasional street food. Apart from being really oily most of the time, I had no other complaints.

I even ate at our university canteen which used re-usable wooden chopsticks.

@Taipo_babe

I sometimes feel pity for Singaporeans; a lot of their concerns when traveling always revolve around security, food safety and air quality. Because they live in an 'ideal' city, they become too fragile and paranoid about problems others do not think about.

Edited: 08 February 2011, 03:49
Hong Kong, China
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for Macau
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5. Re: Experts: How safe is restaurant food?

Yes, it is possible to get parasites from food in China, same as in any other country in the world, and it's probable that people who haven't travelled much won't have developed resistance to the local "bugs." But I'm not convinced that the risk there is so much greater than elsewhere in the developing world, and agree with SBS that your friend had an unfortunate but rare experience.

A few pointers to add to the excellent ones already given: use bottled or boiled water for cleaning your teeth.

Use the first pot or jug of hot tea that arrives on your table to rinse out bowls, spoons, cups and re-useable chopsticks (many places even automatically provide a large bowl to tip the rinse water into), as many (most?) restaurants only use cold water for dishwashing.

Make sure food is thoroughly cooked, specially pork, seafood, snails and exotic meats. Chinese people even consider it normal to cook their lettuce.

If you buy fruit, peel or wash (again in bottled or boiled water) it yourself - you don't know where the vendor's hands have been.

If you want to snack on "safe" foods like potato crisps or M&Ms, remember to disinfect your hands first; again you don't know where the hands have been that preceded yours on the handrails of the escalator or the buttons of the elevator.

Admittedly I have broken all these "rules" at various times, but I have built up years of resistance! For a traveller, my advice would be to be sensible, not scared.

Amsterdam
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6. Re: Experts: How safe is restaurant food?

I have several times to china. I never eat in hotel restaurants, nor in the restaurants that you will find in tourist guides.

I use restaurants varying from fast food to high end. Restaurants in the city but also along the road side when going on trips. Never had a problem.

But some people have sensitive stomachs. They might have a problem to adjust. But that is an individual problem and has nothing to do with the food it self. But if you are in doubt do not start with very spicy food.

Be aware of street food though. That might cause problems.

Sherbrooke, Canada
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7. Re: Experts: How safe is restaurant food?

Washing your dishes with the first pot of tea is often seen in HK or south of China but you almost never see this in the north.

Hong Kong, China
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for Macau
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8. Re: Experts: How safe is restaurant food?

Interesting! I've done it in the west (Qinghai) among both Han and ethnic minorities without any comments or raised eyebrows from the locals.

Italy
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9. Re: Experts: How safe is restaurant food?

We travelled all over China and didn't have a problem but there are things you should avoid like raw salads and ice in drinks because the main problem is the water so anything that is washed in water should be avoided. you will alo see that in all hotels there's free bottled water to clean your teeth.

London, United...
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10. Re: Experts: How safe is restaurant food?

I did not have any problem at any restaurant. I agree about the bottled and boiled water. I washed all the fruit I bought from the market with mineral water.