How To Avoid Food Poisoning During A Survival Situation by Gary Benton
In a survival situation, the last thing you need is to get ill. Immediately following a terrorist attack, natural disaster, or becoming lost in the woods, urgent medical assistance may be impossible to attain. All of you know the situation; there is a severe storm with a lot of damage or in a terrorist attack there will be a disturbance of some sort, maybe an explosion, water quits flowing, or the gas doesn’t work. Life as we know it will change and become more difficult. Or, you mistakenly walk off in an unknown direction and become lost. If we are well stocked with food and water we rarely give foods or drink a second thought, but we should. By not doing so, we can often be setting ourselves up to get deathly ill in the near future. Survival means much more than just having a shelter, fire, training, gear, food and water, but also knowing how to properly store and prepare our foods as well. In most terrorist or natural disaster situations, the provisions stored in the home will most likely be our primary source of food.
According to the USDA food related illness increase over 150 percent during the summer months and I suspect that figure is way low, because I don’t think most minor cases of food poisoning ever get reported. I also suspect many people have no idea what the symptoms of food poisoning are. During the winter months, when the dangers of food poisoning go down, they are still there.
Food poisoning can usually be identified, though the symptoms can vary by type of bacteria causing the illness, by severe diarrhea, nausea, chills, fever, gas pains, and perhaps vomiting (pretty similar to the flu). The incubation period for food poisoning can be from within the hour to up to two weeks or so. There are a large number of illnesses that can result from the poor handing of foods such as E coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and others. What I find most interesting is that the majority of these food-borne illnesses can be prevented.
Foods should be placed in the ice chest or kept in a freezer in sealed containers (plastic with snap on lids work fine) and not just wrapped in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. They may be kept in your freezer or chest as long as they remain cold. If using an ice chest, do not store anything in paper bags because they just make a mess after they get wet and they are very poor storage containers to start with. The primary reason to use sealed containers is to control the possibility of contamination from one food to another due to leakage. As the temperature in your chest or freezer goes up, frozen foods will start to thaw, or if they sit long enough they will start to leak. Cross contamination of foods is a big concern when eating during a survival situation, so separate don’t contaminate.
Another big concern is keeping everything clean, so wash your hands before cooking and after handing any raw foods. If possible use soap and I carry a small bar of hotel soap in my pack. Good solid hygiene while cooking can reduce your risks of getting food poisoning a great deal, regardless if you’re in your home or the field. While this may seem difficult, remember you have a water heater in your home with at least 40 gallons of safe water or if in the woods, you may have access to a lake or stream. Streams and lakes, or “outside” water is not considered safe water. If your water is not taken from a safe hard container, then boil it to make it safe. However, if your water supply is limited, you may have to pay close attention to how you use it and when. Do such things as using dirty dish water to flush your toilet or have more than one person use the same wash water when bathing with a washcloth.
When using a charcoal grill insure the charcoal is glowing red and has a gray powder on the surfaces and only use a grill out of doors. This is a good idea when cooking over a campfire as well and it means the coals are at a proper temperature for food preparation. Electric or gas grills should be heated on high for at least fifteen minutes to kill any bacteria on the cooking surface. Some of you may laugh, but I suggest you use a meat thermometer to insure your meats are cooked properly to kill all bacteria and I even carry one in my backpack in the woods. I cook burgers to 160 degrees, chicken 180 degrees, steaks 150 degrees, and fresh fish until I am sure it has cooked thoroughly. All hotdogs sold in the stores these days have already been precooked, but they should still be heated until they are piping hot throughout. As the meat cooks turn it frequently and move it around on the cooking surface so it cooks evenly, since not all spots on your grill or campfire are as hot as others.
Immediately, in hot weather the quicker the better, after eating, store all leftovers in a rigid container and place them in your ice chest, refrigerator, or discard them. It is very important that they be stored quickly, because bacteria grow rapidly at room temperatures and at high temperature (90-100 degrees) they increase even faster. In the field, this step is extremely important, so I suggest you try to have no leftovers by cooking only what you need. If you decide to dump your leftovers, take them a long way from camp to avoid uninvited visitors—hungry critters.
Most of the cases of food poisoning experienced from outdoor or improper cooking can be prevented by the proper storage of food containers, good hygiene, proper cooking procedures, and the immediate care of all leftovers. Remember to keep all meats properly stored in containers, keep them cold, and cook ‘em up hot! And, if in doubt just throw it out.