Imbibe safely when enjoying a Caribbean holiday this year

Edward Finstein

Winter is here and many of us will be heading south for a vacation. The Caribbean is a prime destination for folks wanting to escape the cold. And, why not? The islands of the West Indies are abundant with tropical breezes, glorious sun-soaked beaches, pristine seas, and exotic flavors.

However, not all is rosy in these warm climes, especially when it comes to food and drink. I’m sure you’re all aware of the “do’s” and “don’ts” of what to eat while there, but perhaps not as clear on the rules of what you should or should not drink.

The most common concern among travelers is drinking water. Although most resorts and hotels claim they have water purification/filtration systems attached to all the water coming out of their taps, don’t take a chance by drinking it, brushing your teeth in it, or even rinsing anything in it you are going to ingest. It’s fine for bathing and that’s it; for consumption, bottled water is always your safest and best bet.

I’m sure you’ll want to try the local spirits, especially the rum that the islands are known for. Straight up, right out of the bottle is fine, however, avoid it “on the rocks” (over ice). The cubes could very well be made from local water and not safe. If you’re thinking that the bodacious amount of alcohol in this spirit will kill any germs or bacteria present, think again.

Tropical drink concoctions utilizing rum are extremely popular and can be found virtually everywhere. Just remember that, beyond the colored umbrellas and swizzle sticks, other mixers (sometimes including local water and ice) and fresh fruit (often rinsed in local water) are utilized. Cream or milk-based cocktails such as a “mudslide” can be problematic, too. Keep in mind that the hotter temperatures of these climates cause product to break down a lot quicker, so any dairy product that is not kept well refrigerated constantly can be questionable.

Dairy mixers should not spend any time whatsoever outside of a refrigerated environment, other than for immediate use. If you see your bartender using any of these dairy products behind the bar that looks like it has been sitting out, don’t order that drink. A good rule of thumb is to ask the barkeep exactly what goes into that fancy drink, where any suspicious ingredient comes from, and how it was kept. Sounds overly cautious, I know, but better safe than sorry.

Beer and wine are safest

Beer is also plentiful on the islands and there are many, many breweries creating wonderful, refreshing, and interesting brews for you to sample. In the heat, nothing takes the edge off better than a frosty cold one. In my opinion, this is one of the safest alcoholic beverages to indulge in.

Wine is not produced to any extent in the tropics — it’s simply too hot. However, imported samples are present everywhere. These are another very safe imbibe that won’t jeopardize your health.

Because the water is boiled, coffee and tea are usually fine. Just keep an eye on the cream or milk used. Bottled juice and soda are also fair bets.

Much of this is common sense. Remember that our bodies are simply not used to certain strains of bacteria present in the tropics and we’re more susceptible to them. Furthermore, the intense heat accelerates bacteria growth much more quickly down there.

I’ll be the first to admit that, while away on vacation in the hot, tropical sun, enjoying myself and perhaps indulging a little more than usual in alcohol, it’s easy to forget about these important issues. Take it from me and countless others, though — it’s no fun spending any part of your long-awaited vacation sick in the bathroom of your room rather than boogie-boarding in the surf.

Drink safely and thoroughly enjoy your holiday.

© Edward Finstein, “The Wine Doctor” 2015. “The Wine Doctor” is Edward Finstein, award-winning author, TV/radio host, renowned wine journalist, international wine judge, professor of wine, and consultant.

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