Food Safety Tips for First-Time Travellers to Africa
Food Safety on an African Tour

From the fiery stews of Ethiopia and the sweet, but hot, fragrant curries of Durban, each part of Africa has its very own unique flavours, ingredients, and traditions that are distinctive and ingrained in the cultures of the people who live here. 

The food possibilities during an African tour are near endless, with each bite a chance to connect with both the people and heritage of the continent.

However, for some travellers, the excitement of exploring African cuisine might be tempered by concerns about food safety, and let’s face it, if there is one thing that can absolutely tarnish the memories of an otherwise fantastic African tour, it’s a food-related illness.

Your Food Safety Concerns are Valid

With bustling street markets, unfamiliar ingredients, regional cooking styles and the occasional story shared by some unfortunate traveller, yours wouldn’t be the first cautious eyebrow raised when the topic of food safety in Africa comes up. 

Africa certainly boasts countless culinary treats, but the sheer variety and the perception of the “unknown” can sometimes lead to both valid worries and some misconceptions about food safety across the continent.

The good news is that with a little planning and some basic precautions, you can have an African holiday that is delicious and safe. 

Just like when visiting any other destination, a little awareness goes a long way and we have some simple tips that you can keep close to ensure that your taste buds have a fantastic African tour, worry-free.

Zimbabwe Food on an African Tour

How Does Food Poisoning Occur While Travelling?

Food poisoning is a bit of a strange thing. 

Sometimes it is just a tiny bit of a meal that can make you sick, in which case you are simply the unlucky one, while other times, a dish brings down the entire evening’s diners. 

Food poisoning, which is a broad term used to describe any illness related to a contaminated meal or beverage, is a lot more common than you think, and it can happen whether you have tucked in at your local chippy or while on holiday in Africa, as the same characteristics are generally present. 

The reason why it seems more common when travelling is simply because travellers are not immune to localised food-borne bacteria in the same way as the locals are. 

Another reason that food poisoning might seem to happen more frequently to travellers is that food and water hygiene practices are not universal, and as such while the country you come from might have very strict principles in place, the destination you are visiting in Africa might not (at least, it might be more difficult for said African country to monitor hygiene.)

Food poisoning generally affects the body between 2 and 24 hours after you’ve eaten. Some illnesses will pass quickly, once the bug is out of your system, and others will linger, requiring antibiotics and occasionally a rehydrating IV line (or drip) to get you fighting fit again. This is why many travel lists suggest that travellers pack appropriate medication to treat unexpected, er, upsets. 

Food Safety Tips for Travelling in Africa

Foods To Approach with Caution when Travelling

The possibility of food poisoning shouldn’t slow you down or deprive your tastebuds, but to play it on the safe side, when travelling in Africa, you should approach these foods with caution:

  • Food sold by street vendors

Look, some of the best food in Africa comes from the roadside stand run by a talented magogo who knows her way around a fire. But as those tantalising smells drift your way, keep in mind that these types of vendors sadly don’t always have the hygienic means to prepare their food in a way that you might be used to (I.e. the stall won’t have running tap water and a kitchen). 

Buy this food with some caution but keep in mind that all vendors are different, and some try really hard to do things as cleanly as possible. 

  • Fresh Produce 

It’s not the GMO or the heavy use of pesticides that you have to worry about when buying fresh produce in Africa. Instead, it is the parasites and bacteria that you should keep in mind. Fresh produce is not always washed or properly checked before it is sold, which can leave you at risk. 

That said, if you find yourself in a town or city, it is safe to say that the produce will be healthy and ready to snack on. You are visiting Africa, not the 1800s, we do have stunning shops that take food health very seriously. 

  • Buffets 

We all love a good buffet, but even in the first world, this smorgasbord of treats should be approached with caution. 

Food left out is always risky; you never know when it was prepared, how long it’s been sitting there, if it has been sneezed on or if the guest who helped themself to food before you washed their hands before plating up. The Norovirus is one of the common culprits of food poisoning when it comes to the buffet, which comes from unwashed hands…eew.

  • Ice and Tap Water 

Contaminated water is no joke. Waterborne illnesses in Africa are more common in some places than others, and while most lodges and hotels will have strict water safety protocols in place, the same can’t always be said for all restaurants and rest stops. 

And don’t think ice cubes are safe either; the cold simply preserves the harmful bacteria. 

When in doubt, always stick to bottled water and if you are worried about plastic usage, there are plenty of places in Africa where you can access filtered water which you can use in a refillable bottle. 

  • Bush meat 

This one should be something that goes without saying; if you don’t know what the meat is, don’t eat it. 

Unfortunately, bush meat is quite common but only at very rustic roadside food stalls and obscure markets. Africa is strict about the consumption of bush meat, because of deadly diseases like Ebola (not that you should have sleepless nights over this disease, it is extremely uncommon). 

Many travellers to Africa try to get adventurous, to have a story to take home, and are tempted to eat bush meat. 

Word to the wise; Just. Don’t.Do.It.

Hand washing for food safety on an African tour

Food Safety Tips for Touring Africa

Now that we’ve hopefully not scared you senseless but opened your mind to what not to put near your mouth, we have some tips that you can use to stay safe when dining in Africa:

Clean Hands, Happy Travels

Frequent handwashing is your first line of defence. Pack plenty of soap and make sure to wash thoroughly with clean water before eating and after using the restroom.

You should also carry a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitiser for those situations where soap and water aren’t readily available.

Fresh is Best

When it comes to street food, the golden rule is to choose freshly prepared dishes (that you can see being prepared) and avoid anything that’s been sitting out for extended periods, as this increases the risk of bacterial growth.

And always stick to well-cooked meats and seafood. 

A simple visual inspection can be helpful (check that the meat is cooked through and the seafood is opaque, not translucent).

Fruits and Veggies

Only buy fruits with peels you can remove yourself, like bananas or oranges. This minimises the risk of contamination from unwashed surfaces.

If you’re unsure about the water quality, choose cooked vegetables or fruits you can wash with bottled water.

Water Smart 

This might seem obvious, but avoid tap water unless you know it has been purified.

Bottled water should be your go-to for everything from drinking and brushing your teeth to making ice cubes.

Local Knowledge is Power

Don’t be afraid to make use of the expertise of your tour guide or local friends. They can recommend reputable restaurants with good hygiene practices, ensuring a safe and delicious culinary adventure. And Google is always your friend. Before dining, Google the establishment (if possible, of course). 


Don’t let food safety concerns hold you back from experiencing the magic of African cuisine.

With a little planning and these simple tips, you can focus on what matters most – savouring the incredible flavours when on your next African tour!