Thursday, February 3, 2022

Keep It Clean, Folks

“Roughing it” or living in primitive conditions doesn't mean you have to -- or should -- live in squalor. Sanitation and hygiene are two of the biggest contributors to long, healthy living, and the human race has made great improvements in these areas in the last few centuries: sanitary sewers, canned food, and personal hygiene are all fairly recent inventions if you look at the entirety of human history.

Western civilization gets a lot of bad publicity in the various media for some of the things that occurred since the end of the Dark Ages, but very little praise for the things that it got right. Yes, slavery and colonization under “Manifest Destiny” was generally a bad thing. A lot of groups had their territory and lifestyles destroyed by European settlers, but they also garnered the benefits of centuries of trial-and-error learning about disease and health. Let's look at some of the basics.

Don't Defecate Where You Eat

This may sound like common sense, something we're taught at a very young age, but for most of history and most of the world it is an issue. Many places in Africa, South and Central America, and Asia still lack sewers and the results are not healthy. Fecal contamination is the main cause of diseases such as typhoid fever, tapeworms, Giardia, and a host of others. 

Learn basic field hygiene and how to crap in the woods if you're expecting to be away from a modern bathroom. Travel to areas that lack modern sanitation systems will require preparation and forethought if you want to avoid “Montezuma's Revenge”... or worse.

"Employees Must Wash Hands Before Returning to Work"
If you have to post signs in the bathrooms, that's an indication to me that some people aren't using common sense (and common decency). Some things are best not shared... in addition to the fecal matter mentioned above, other bodily fluids can carry diseases like Hepatitis and the cold/flu. 

I have been accused of going overboard on this subject (I wash my hands a lot), but I also have worked with chemicals most of my life and don't really want to ingest any of the nastier ones. It's not just diseases that can make your life miserable: chemical contamination from handling fertilizer, pesticides, or just about any industrial chemical is a serious issue. Lead dust from the reloading bench, unknown substances from sorting through trash/recycling, and petroleum products from working on machinery all come to mind.

Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold...
Preparation of food has improved more than most people know. In an age where we can get fresh foods delivered to our doorsteps every day or pick up fresh fruits and vegetables at a grocery store regardless of the season, keeping a pot of soup simmering for days or weeks is a foreign concept. The “pease porridge” in the nursery rhyme is what we know as split-pea soup made from dried peas, an easily produced and stored food. The pot was kept hung over the firebox of a fireplace to keep it warm, but the fluctuation in temperatures produced an ideal growing place for bacteria. 

Keep all food hot, not warm. There's a reason state and county food service inspectors spot check buffets with a thermometer, and that reason is keeping food above 165°F will prevent bacterial growth. Heat kills pathogens, while cold will slow them down.

Cool It
Refrigeration is one of the biggest improvements to daily life in human history; greatly reducing food-borne illness by preventing microbial growth has changed life more than most people think. Insects tend to go dormant or die at any temperature below 40°F, and bacteria and other simple life-forms slow way down as the temperature gets close to freezing. 

You're not going to destroy most bacteria with any common cooling equipment, but you can keep it from reproducing and at a level that your body can tolerate. Less than a hundred years ago, ice houses and harvesting ice were still the main way to keep food cool. The invention of home refrigeration changed the way people buy, prepare, and store food; look into how your great-grandparents lived if you want ideas for how to deal with life without an electric refrigerator. 

On a side note, there are alternatives to electric refrigerators. I covered the propane-fired type in an article about RVs, but there are companies making them in larger sizes. Living in the frozen north, I could rely on harvested ice and an ice house, given enough time. Stored ice as a way to preserve food has been around for at least 3000 years, and it still works.

We have it good right now, but preparing for times without the niceties of electricity and running water is part of why we're called preppers. Think ahead, and try to make do with what you have available.

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Fine Print

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Creative Commons License

Erin Palette is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to