The Only Time Anthony Bourdain Got Seriously Ill From Food Poisoning

As the rougher edge of the constellation of culinary celebrities, Anthony Bourdain made a career of touring places that the average American would consider — well — parts unknown and eating the food there without reservation. Surely, a lot of viewers thought while watching Bourdain dive into dishes that approximated edibility, he must have been sick at some point or another. Talking to Frances Largeman-Roth of Health Magazine, Bourdain agreed, "When you spin the wheel sometimes you lose."

That sometimes, however, occurred so rarely as to be newsworthy. In 2011, Grub Street responded to the news tweeted by Ottavia Busia that Bourdain had come down with food poisoning by suggesting various Food Network celebrities who might have poisoned the loudmouth. No further details were relayed. Over the years, though, Bourdain would reveal that he had only gotten violently ill from food about three times. He told Health Magazine that he had come down with food poisoning once in France. He would also tell TV Guide that he had only suffered from food poisoning twice in one decade. "Both were tribal, bad-hygiene situations. I just knew I was going to be sick when I saw what I had to eat," he said. "Out of respect, I ate what was offered."

These amount to the three days of sick leave he admitted to during an interview with NPR. Of course, after two decades of cooking and traveling, you would expect Bourdain's food safety sensors to be honed.

Food travel tips from Bourdain

Now, many would probably want to learn how a man who avoided food poisoning during constant travel managed to avoid catching bugs. And Anthony Bourdain was happy to provide.

In an interview with CNN, Bourdain said that the rule of thumb his team employed was to follow the locals. If a run-down-looking street food cart had booming business, it was almost certainly safe to eat. "Few of these little mom-and-pop food stalls and eateries — they're not in business poisoning their neighbors," he explained. Similarly, if the locals don't drink the water, don't drink the water.

A line that Bourdain seems to have really liked appears both here and in the NPR interview, where he goes off to explain that you are more likely to suffer food poisoning from a Caesar salad in Central Africa or the Middle East because these foods aren't local and so are not necessarily made with the same level of care.

Interestingly, the same advice also led Bourdain to his experiences with food poisoning. He was brought into local bad hygiene situations, but saw that the respectful thing to do was to eat what was offered. However, on balance, those few times over a career gives credence to following his rule.