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Lack Of Refrigeration Leads To Food Poisoning Mistake

I drink bad milk and pay the price. Getting sick is part of travel, it just hits a little harder when you know you did it to yourself.

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There were two cartons of UHT milk sitting on the table when I woke up this morning. They were both opened. One I’d opened the night before, the other was from the night before that. One would be surely rotten, the other only partially rotten but still drinkable. This was my first screw up: I opened one carton without throwing the other away. I wanted a cup of coffee. I smelled both milks, I tasted both, and I went with what seemed to be the best candidate.

It only took 20 minutes before it became clear that I may have chosen poorly. I did my weekly call to my parents. I began feeling worse. I tried to finish a post on Digital Nomad Travel, I only felt worse. My stomach bloated up to it’s max potential like it was going to burst. I stood up and I knew I was going to explode. I quickly stumbled into the bathroom, and remained between there and my bedroom for the remainder of this day.

The horror. I will not go into the details, as they can be readily imagined. But I will say that I haven’t been this explosively stricken with a stomach ailment since the last time I was in India. I had food poisoning. Milk poisoning.

The best think to do for any type of food related illness is to get the problematic bacteria out of your system ASAP. The last thing you want to do is take diarrhea medicine when you first get sick. Medicating this ailment should be a last resort measure only taken to stave off severe and serious dehydration. Diarrhea and puking are the body’s prime mechanisms for getting stuff out that needs to be gotten out. Blast away.

I knew that this illness would be over as soon as I got all the bacteria out. This is what I spent my day doing. Not really something to bring to the dinner conversation:

So, what did you do today, honey?

What I eat when sick

What I eat when sick

When I get stomach sick I have my wife go and fetch me fast food (preferably McDonalds), donuts, and Gatorade. Now this combination of food sounds like something that would make someone sick rather than alleviate symptoms, but it makes me feel better. I could guess that it’s the combination of salts, sugar, and fats that replenish my body with easy to digest matter, but I won’t: all I know is that this is the food I crave, so this is what I eat.

Anyway I slice this I shouldn’t be drinking from a carton of milk that has been sitting out open on a table overnight — especially when I’m one tick of latitude from the Tropic of Cancer. UHT processing is a revolutionary way of producing milk and is pretty much the sole reason why so much of the world has ready access to milk today.

But having milk that you don’t need to refrigerate pre-opening sort of makes us a little more lax about refrigerating it after opening. Yes, UHT milk needs to be refrigerated like any other type of milk once that carton is cracked open. You see this all over the world: boxes of opened UHT milk just sitting out all day long — or even for days on end. You just don’t see this with fresh milk. Leave a jug of fresh milk out for an hour or two and people start panicking.

Read more on Vagabond Journey: What is UHT milk?

This leads me to one of the biggest challenges for world travel: lack of refrigeration. No traveler is going to carry a refrigerator with them, and access to them in hotels/ hostels is always a more miss than hit endeavor. So coming up with strategies to chose, prepare, and store food without access to this modern technology is part of the daily travel process. Travel long enough and you’re going to come up with or learn all kinds of ways to keep food cooler sans refrigerator — like wrapping beer bottles in wet napkins or storing bags of food on air conditioners.

I usually give UHT milk a 24 hour lifetime after opening — but I know that this is really far too much in hot climates. I paid the price today.


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Filed under: Food, Health, Travel Diary, Travel Problems

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3715 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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  • Dimitri August 23, 2013, 10:57 pm


    Not sure if this helps but the canoeing community here in Canada preserves cheese by putting it in cheesecloth soaked in vinegar. Holds it for a week or so. Also works for a day or two with steak but wouldn’t risk it in a hot climate, usually only stored in newspaper in the center of the foodpack.



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