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Traveling Somewhere with Unsafe Drinking Water? Never Make This One Mistake

You scrupulously avoid drinking from the tap and refuse ice in all your drinks. But waterborne bacteria could still take you down if you’re not cautious about the vessel you’re drinking from. According to Vicki Sowards, Director of Nursing Resources at Passport Health, glasses washed in non-potable water can make you sick even if you’re drinking bottled water from them. Bacteria will remain in the glass and contaminate whatever liquid you put in it to drink. If you’re unsure about the cleanliness of your glass, drink directly from the bottle or can.

The CDC advises that you wipe off the lip of a can before drinking from it because the can may have been sitting in an ice bucket and have lingering waterborne bacteria.

The CDC also has some good news for drinkers, stating that “the alcohol content of most liquors is sufficient to kill germs,” so you can worry a bit less when ordering a cocktail. Unfortunately, beer and wine do not have a high enough alcohol content to kill germs, so make sure those beverages come from a sealed bottle or can and are served in a clean glass.

Bottled or canned soda is a safe bet, as you can drink directly from the container and not worry about cross-contamination. Avoid fountain soda drinks, as those are likely made using tap water, which is carbonated and mixed with flavored syrup before being poured into a potentially dirty glass.

Avoid juices and blended drinks, as they may have been mixed with tap water—or ice made from tap water—before being served to you.

When choosing a hot drink like tea or coffee, make sure that it is served steaming hot (it’s OK to allow the drink to cool to room temperature before imbibing) and avoid adding dairy or cut fruit like lemons. Milk or other dairy products may have been sitting at room temperature or could be unpasteurized, and fruit is unsafe unless it has been cooked or peeled.

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Caroline Morse Teel is a Senior Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from around the world. 

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