The “Can I Eat This?” app from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gives travelers easy tips on how to avoid gastrointestinal illnesses that result from ingesting contaminated food and water.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), tourist arrivals grew by 5 percent in 2013 to 1.087 billion, and this figure is forecast to grow between 4 and 4.5 percent next year. As more and more people exercise the privilege to traveling across national boundaries for business or leisure, or flock to medical tourism hubs abroad to seek quality care, an unfortunate consequence is the heightened risk of the spread of diseases.

 Although far less lethal than such contagions like MERS, travelers’ diarrhoea is the most common illness affecting travelers. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 20 and 50 percent of all global travelers -- some 10 million people -- fall ill due to this condition every year.

In order to reach out and warn travelers, the CDC in April launched a simple mobile phone app for Android devices and iPhones to help them avoid diarrhoea and similar gastrointestinal ailments when overseas.

The app called “Can I Eat This?” asks travelers to pick which country they are visiting and what type of food or drink they plan to try and consume. For example, if the user happens to be visiting a developing country, the app would not recommend eating street food items because these may have been prepared under unsanitary conditions. The app would recommend eating packed goods or bottled water instead.

As stated in an example in this report, if the user is visiting India, and wants to try a local beverage, the app would ask, “Is there ice in it?” When you say yes, then the app would reply, “You probably shouldn't drink it” but would respond “It's probably OK to drink” if you would tell it you are about to drink a canned beverage.  

The app’s recommendations are based on the agency’s public health and epidemiology data collected with the help of other agencies such as the World Health Organization. The CDC said that it created a simple and fun-to-use app that can be used offline so that it can be useful even in areas with no data connection. 

“With Can I Eat This?, you can be more confident that your food and drink choices won’t make you spend your international trip in the bathroom”, the agency stated on its website.

The CDC has long issued tips for travelers to prevent food and water-borne diseases when traveling to countries that are known for poor sanitation. Some of these tips include: avoiding food and drinks from street vendors, avoiding raw food or fruits and undercooked food or seafood, and avoiding tap water, ice and dairy products. The agency said it wants to reach out to more travelers using mobile technology to strengthen conventional warning campaigns especially to travelers visiting high-risk regions.

Among the high-risk areas that CDC identified are developing countries in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and the Asia-Pacific region. Children, immunosuppressed persons, diabetics, and people taking antacids are particularly at-risk, the CDC warned.

Part of the experience of traveling to other countries and experiencing local culture is consuming local food and drinks. But the CDC and other health agencies hope that this app can help travelers make better decisions in regards to consuming safe food and drinks to avoid gastrointestinal distress, and see more of the sights rather than rushing towards the nearest bathroom every few minutes.