Epic Fail:: Food Poisoning in China

Wow, what an epic fail. I was getting cocky about my stomach of steel, more like contaminated belly which rarely gets me food poisoning. It’s nearly a fact that everyone gets sick in India. I didn’t get sick. I thought I was cool. It’s a fact everyone gets sick in China. And then I got food poisoning in China. And so did my sister, and my dad, and each time in different weeks in different cities.

Food Poisoning in China ain’t Fun

I was the first to be hit with food poisoning in China, just 4 days in. I was in Xia’pu, northern Fujian province when it hit me. In the middle of the night, in our grungy hooker-holdup hotel, when my upper tummy began to hurt with unbearable pain. It would strike in spurts. It would hurt for 2 minutes straight like a pms cramp, go away for a few minutes and then hit again. I downed pain-relievers like a depressed celebrity. Then the diarrhea began. Then the vomiting. Excuse my foul graphic imagery. I had been eating at rather fancier restaurants with the occasional street food. Many say that you are more likely to get food poisoning from fancier restaurants than street food because of the lower turnover rate of food products. Who knows. We weren’t sure if it was food poisoning or stomach flu though. Because my sister & dad had eaten the same food and weren’t sick.

Then My Sister got Food Poisoning

I was well 24 hours later after emptying out all possible substances from my body. 3 days later, my sister was hit with food poisoning for the next 72 hours along with a high fever. Eek! It’s always a hassle when anyone gets sick traveling. So I want to share with you our experiences of food poisoning in China and advices on possibly avoiding it. Our Chinese friends gave us lots of medicine to take but none seemed to work, at least fast enough. The symptoms are all the same: excruciating upper stomach pain, incessant diarrhea, vomiting, no appetite, slight fever. Finally after a few days, my sister got better.

..and then my Dad

In Chengdu, one of the wealthiest cities in China, my dad was hit with food posioning the worst. This was 3 days prior to departing China. My dad rarely ever gets sick. He has the type of immune system where he gets sick and is okay a day later, not ever having to visit the doctor. He started with our similar symptoms. A day later, he was bedridden on his hotel bed in so much pain, he actually asked to be taken to the emergency room. That is incredibly rare for him as I don’t think he’s ever been. We took him to a local hospital that sunday night. Thankfully with family friends that knew how to navigate around the city. He became so weak that he could barely speak and limped his way in, needing me to hold him up.

Rushing to the Emergency Room in Chengdu

The first hospital couldn’t take him for whatever reasons. We rushed him to an emergency room. The hospital was incredibly dirty with patients rushing in and out, blood gushing everywhere. I almost puked breathing and observing the conditions of the hospital, in even a wealthy city like Chengdu. Nontheless, I just wanted my dad to get better. An hour later, a doctor saw him, drew his blood and tested his stool. The doctor said that he definitely had food poisoning and contracted some rare virus that is barely heard of. He said that my dad would have to stay in the hospital for 2-3 days. And be reliant on an IV to replenish his nutrition, since my dad had not eaten for the past 2 days and barely drank water. Unfortunately the hospital had no bed left, so we rushed him to another hospital, much cleaner and organized.

I stayed at the hospital with my dad until 3am as he laid in bed with 4 bags of IV injected. Thankfully he was better within 4 hours. Although the doctor recommended we stay for a few more days, we had to get back to Shanghai & home. Whew. That was a scary experience, being in another country and having it happen to your family. Unfortunately, it’s a common occurance. We told friends who had visited China and everyone had a story to tell of someone they knew who had gone to the emergency room for food poisoning.

Causes of Food Poisoning in China?

I can’t narrow down what caused the food poisoning for all of us. It happened to us at different times, in different cities. But there are few factors which we spectulated. Many meals we ate used Hu-nan/Szechuan spicy red peppers which are spicier than Thai chilli. We all loooove spicy (complete masochists) and encouraged the spiciness. Having too much of that in every meal definitely irritated our stomach lining and intestinal tract. Another factor is that restaurants use way more oil than we’re use to in the US. What kind of oil they use, it is unclear. How often do they change it? Probably not often enough.

The sanitary conditions of their kitchens are definitely lacking compared to our standards. I would estimate a ‘D’ rating if we went to grade it in the US Health Inspector ratings. China has been infamous for having toxic ingredients in food products. There has been reports of steroids injected in watermelon to make it grow larger. The government barely has food regulation like our FDA. MSG is put in everything. We have to find ways to be careful while still experiencing and tasting as much as possible while traveling. Especially with so much diversity in Chinese food.


How to Potentially Avoid Food Poisoning in China

  • Pack pepto bismol, acid-relief like Tums/Pepcid AC
  • Ask your server to not use as much oil & NO MSG
    • You can never guarantee if they will listen but it doesn’t hurt to ask
  • Drink only bottled water & avoid ice
  • If you have a weaker stomach, avoid street food (though this is really against my Travel religion)


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