Sanitation is Vital by R. Ann Parris
It doesn’t affect quite as many disasters as, say, the potential of fire or unstable finances, but in hurricanes, dam breaks, earthquakes, and floods it can become an immediate, widespread threat. It’s also a major threat anytime our water utilities go out — recreational camping and packing all the way out to disruptions to well pumps and public utilities lines.
If we’re not making plans for our wastes, the ability to clean our hands, and proper food and drink handling, we run the risk of all sorts of uglies.
During disasters, we want to take extra care and caution in not cross-contaminating foods that have been washed and cooked with foods in still raw states.
(Examples: Cooked meats being placed on the same plate where they were held when raw. Washed greens being laid against raw, unwashed garden carrots. Placing eggs in untreated water, then bringing it to a boil — as opposed to adding them after it’s boiled — or using untreated water to cool boiled eggs, which allows contaminant entry when the eggs are cracked.)
Err on the side of caution. A disaster is a bad time to add the horrors of food poisoning.
People already die of it. A disaster big or small likely means fewer resources, less assistance, more difficulty and risk in getting to assistance, and slower responses if authorities are still in operation, with them, too, overwhelmed or bogged-down by travel restrictions.
Fecal-oral route infections are among the most common types of food poisoning.
Fecal-based diseases regularly disrupt modern food systems — pay attention to the culprit of the next fresh-frozen food recalls. Listeria, salmonella, and E. coli are all intestinal-tract sources, and the most-common disease causes (undeclared allergens is actually number one, and foreign objects tends to bounce around third, fourth, and fifth place).
Cholera is relatively unheard of in functional societies, but it’s fairly common in urban slums, refugee camps, and cities without decent infrastructure even in modernized nations due to the widespread presence of unsanitary water.
Serious food poisoning usually takes 12-36 hours to become symptomatic.
The time factor is one of the things that makes it so difficult to nail down what has caused an illness. People commonly misidentify a food or restaurant from well inside the 12-hour mark when reporting.
Chances are good, if you ate something and do feel ill within 2-12 hours, it’s one of the very mild staph and clostridium bacterium. With the exception of botulism and preexisting conditions, the body rebalances and symptoms pass inside 24-72 hours. Many don’t go to hospital at all for it, or need only mild supportive care (IV, fluids) to get through. So, all in all, you’re lucky if you do get ill quickly.
The biggies that take longer to show up are usually the longer-lasting 2-5 day and 3-21 day illnesses, which makes supportive care a must-have, and the ones that require specialized, slow-kill antibiotic therapy.
(Some bacteria release toxins as they die; if you kill them all at once, the patient gets swamped by the toxins and follows them to the grave. Survival requires slowly killing controlled amounts that the body can handle, which varies by patient, so the treatment is highly situationally dependent.)
We can find open-source materials to guide our food handling everywhere, from camping guides to public cafeteria, lunchroom and shelter protocols.
We need some way to treat and-or filter water, for bathing, cooking, washing cooking surfaces and materials, and drinking.
Wound-entry infection is deadly serious. Especially for anyone with an already compromised system, a tiny cut can lead to hospitalizations and amputations, even today. We have to have the ability to wash our hands and any wounds we pick up.
Hand sanitizers, wipes, and packing dish soap and hand soap pumps can make a big difference. Ensure iodine, hydrogen peroxide and-or medical-grade alcohol are available in kits, cars, and shelter-in-place kits.
Don’t ignore wastes in planning. We are going to go potty (as are our neighbors, animals, and people uphill and upstream). We are also going to generate some food-related trash, most likely, unless we’re already in low-waste living conditions.
Those are all sources of disease, and thus cross-contamination. They’re also magnets for insects and other pests, which may further increase contamination and bring with them a host of other diseases.
Composting toilets, good bags and liners, kitty litter, baby pools with pea gravel or litter for animals, proper site planning to avoid water and camp contamination with dug-in latrines and livestock, and others are all options.
Pre-identify potential trash holding areas and spend for protective bags and bins, or incineration (fire risk!) or burial of physical trash.
Individual situations will dictate what fixes we can apply, for all of the sanitation risks and all types, levels and durations of emergencies.
All the food supplies, ammo, and training in the world won’t help us if we go down from an infection or food poisoning. It’s not the sexiest of prepper topics, certainly, but clean water and clean conditions are one of the most vital to our health and survival in any disaster.