It’s just makes common sense that there will be sanitation issues in a major disaster or collapse situation. Any water source that has not been sterilized or any food that hasn’t been properly cleaned and cooked will be an opportunity for pathogens to start their damage. As a community medic and chief sanitation officer, your duty will be to assure that water is clean and that food is prepared properly. It will be an important part of your strategy to prevent disease, and this ounce of prevention will be better than a pound of cure later on.
Water Contamination and Sterilization
Water can be contaminated by floods, disruptions in water service and a number of other random events. A dead raccoon upstream from where you collect your water supplies could be a source of deadly bacteria. Even the clearest mountain brook could be a source of parasites, called protozoa, which can cause disease. A common organism known to outdoorsmen that is a concern would be Giardia, which causes diarrheal disease. Cholera, as seen recently in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, and Typhoid are other notorious illnesses caused by contaminated food and water.
If you’re starting with cloudy water, it is because there are many small particles of debris in it. There are many excellent commercial filters on the market, such as the Berkey water filter or the AquaPail, that deal with this effectively. You could also make your own particulate filter by using a length of 4 inch wide PVC pipe and inserting 2 or 3 layers of gravel, sand and/or activated charcoal, with each layer separated by pieces of cloth or cotton. Once flushed out and ready to go, you can run cloudy water through it and see clear water coming out the other side.
This type of filter, with or without activated charcoal, will get rid of particulate matter but will not kill bacteria. It’s important to have several ways to sterilize your water to get rid of organisms. This can be accomplished by several methods:
Boiling: Use a heat source to get your water to a roiling boil for at least 10 minutes. There are bacteria that may survive high heat, but they are in the minority. Using a pressure cooker would be even more thorough.
Chlorine: Bleach has an excellent track record of eliminating bacteria and 8-10 drops in a gallon of water will do the trick. If you’re used to drinking city-treated water, you probably won’t notice any difference in taste.
2% Tincture of Iodine: About 12 drops per gallon of water will be effective.
Ultraviolet Radiation: Sunlight will kill bacteria! 6-8 hours in direct sunlight (even better on a reflective surface) Fill your clear gallon bottle and shake vigorously for 20 seconds. The oxygen released from the water molecules will help the process along and, amazingly, even improves the taste. Commercial products such as the Steri-Pen (below) use ultraviolet light to achieve the same result.
Avoiding Food Contamination
Anyone who has eaten food that has been left out for too long has probably experienced an occasion when they have regretted it. The restaurant industry’s official line is that food may become contaminated enough to make you sick by about four hours in the open. If you have that food in lemon juice, vinegar or oil that amount of time may be stretched a bit due to the acidic environments or lack of oxygen for bacteria to grow. Despite this, there are organisms such as the bacteria that causes Botulism that don’t need oxygen to thrive.
Properly cleaning food and food preparation surfaces and allowing those surfaces to completely dry is a key to preventing disease. Your hands are a food preparation surface. Wash your hands thoroughly prior to preparing your food. Other food preparation surfaces like counter tops, cutting boards, dishes, and utensils should also be cleaned with hot water and soap before using them. Soap may not kill all germs, but it helps to dislodge them from surfaces.
If you have a good supply, use paper towels to clean surfaces. Kitchen towels, especially if kept damp, really accumulate bacteria. If you ever reach a point when paper towels are no longer available, boil your towels before using them.
Wash your fruits and vegetables under running water before eating them. Food that comes from plants that grow in soil may have disease-causing organisms, and that without taking into account fertilizers like manure. You’re not protected if the fruit has a rind; the organisms on the rind will get on your hand and will be transferred to the fruit once you peel it.
Raw meats are notorious for having their juices contaminate food. Prepare meats separately from your fruits and vegetables. A useful item to be certain that meats are safe is a meat thermometer. Assure that meats reach an appropriate safe temperature and remain consistently at that temperature until cooked; this varies by the type of meat:
Beef: 145 degrees F
Pork: 150 degrees F
Lamb: 160 degrees F
Poultry: 165 degrees F
Ground Meats: 160 degrees F
Sauces and Gravy: 165 degrees F
Soups with Meat: 165 degrees F
Fish: 145 degrees
More on this and other sanitation/hygiene issues in the near future…