Food and Water Contamination

Share Button

In normal times, we sometimes see problems with contaminated food and water that result in recalls of various products. Therefore, it just makes common sense that there will be sanitation issues in a survival scenario. 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 (disease-causing organisms) to cause major illness. As community medic, your duty will be to assure that water is clean and that food is prepared properly. Here are a few thoughts on this important responsibility:

Sterilizing Water and Proper Preparation of Food

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 stream could be a source of parasites, called protozoa, which can cause diarrheal disease.

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 Lifestraw, 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 to 90% full and shake vigorously for 20 seconds. The oxygen released from the water molecules will help the process along and, amazingly, even improves the taste.

Food Borne Illness

Anyone who has eaten food that has been left out for too long has probably experienced an occasion when they have regretted it. Properly cleaning food and food preparation surfaces 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 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. If you have a way to produce power, you can microwave them.

Wash your fruits and vegetables under running water before eating them. Food that comes from plants that grow in soil may be contaminated with disease-causing organisms, and that’s 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 meat is 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, and every successful survival community should have one. 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 F

Providing clean water and properly prepared food to your family in a power-down situation will do more to keep them healthy that just about anything that I could do as a physician. Don’t ignore this important aspect of medical preparedness, or you’ll be sorry you did.

Joe Alton, MD

AuthorJoeFind out more about medical self-reliance in times of trouble with our Amazon Bestseller “The Survival Medicine Handbook“. Check out more than 230 5-star reviews.

Hey, don’t forget to check out our entire line of quality medical kits and individual supplies at Also, our Book Excellence Award-winning 700-page SURVIVAL MEDICINE HANDBOOK: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE FOR WHEN HELP IS NOT ON THE WAY is now available in black and white on Amazon and in color and color spiral-bound versions at

Share Button
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Survival Medicine Hour: Fractures, Eye Infections, Med Supplies
How to Choose a Tourniquet