Tuesday, February 08, 2011
Thailand: Tourist Dies After Eating Toxic Seaweed At Chiang Mai Food Stall
I was just about to head off for Chiang Mai to continue my tour of Thailand's food stalls when I heard some very sad news about a female backpacker dying from food poisoning after eating at the city's famous food market.
Sarah Carter, 23, was taken to hospital on Friday and passed away two days later after eating contaminated seaweed. Her two travelling companions Amanda Eliason and Emma Langlands survived the ordeal and are being treated in Chiang Mai Ram Hospital.
Amanda remains in intensive care after recovering from emergency heart surgery while Emma – who is thought to have ordered a different dish - has been moved into her own room and is now eating.
Sarah’s mother and brother have flown out to Thailand.
Her father, Richard Carter, from Auckland, New Zealand, said he had spoken to her when she was first admitted to hospital.
"It appeared to be just bad food poisoning. She appeared withdrawn and not sounding that good, but seemed all right," he said. "But within an hour of our conversation the thing just spread to her heart and strangled her heart."
He said the three women, who had all met at university in New Zealand, had bought meals at a "curry place" in Chiang Mai's famous food market.
He said he had been told that the toxin that killed his daughter was extremely rare. "They get one death every two years, but it seems only the tourists get it, the locals are immune to it," he added.
Thiravat Hemachudha, director of neurology at Chulalongkorn University Hospital in Bangkok, said toxins are found in certain types of seaweed around Thailand, but are "extremely rare".
Fish, typically bass and eels, can eat the poisonous seaweed without harm but the toxin can remain inside them and be passed on to anyone eating them, he said.
It is not yet known if Sarah and Amanda fell ill after eating fish or a local seaweed delicacy that was contaminated. Rotting seaweed can contain hydrogen sulphide, a highly poisonous gas with the odour of rotten eggs, which can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, but is rarely fatal.
Thailand is generally known for having higher food hygiene standards than many of its other Asian neighbours, and tourist officials have been quick to point out that Sarah’s death must be taken in perspective.
They say although you can expect to get an upset stomach when travelling to countries like Thailand, dying from food poisoning is extremely rare.
Travel experts say eating at Thai food stalls is generally safe, and you are as likely to get ill by eating in a five-star hotel where the food may have been sitting around for some time.
Food blogger Chawadee Nualkhair, who has just released a new book, Bangkok's Top 50 Street Food Stalls, says one tip when eating Thai street food is to look at the tray containing the traditional four Thai seasonings of sugar, fish sauce, lime juice, and chillies. “If the condiment tray is clean, the food will be clean,” she says.
However, standards obviously vary hugely. “I once went to a beef noodle shop on Ekamai (in Bangkok) where I found a dead cockroach in the chilli pepper-and-vinegar container. Needless to say, that shop isn't in the guide,” she adds.