Surviving Food Poisoning

| January 6, 2014 |

food posoin

The title probably sounds a bit alarmist, and over the top. Most everyone has had a touch of food poisoning at some point in our lives, and it hasn’t killed us. In fact, in this modern age- food poisoning is treated largely like the common cold; a mere inconvenience. For the most part, food poisoning isn’t the danger it once was; we take a day or two to rest and we are fine.

What happens though, in a disaster or emergency situation; and you come down with food poisoning? Painful cramps, fevers and dehydration leave you immobile and useless. If you are alone, how do you care for yourself; or more frighteningly- how do you defend yourself. If you are part of a group, suddenly you are unable to contribute to the group; in fact you add extra burden by making your care part of the daily tasks. In that light, food poisoning seems much more serious; which is why you need to know how to avoid food poisoning in general, how to treat it and what special considerations to take in an emergency situation.

How serious your food poisoning is, will depend on the type and amount of the virus or bacteria you ingest. Salmonella is a fairly common strain that is usually the culprit for food poisoning, with the shortest recovery time. However, even a weaker strain like Salmonella can be debilitating in the right circumstances. A few of the offending germs that can cause food poisoning are:

  • Campylobacter enteritis
  • Cholera
  • E. coli enteritis
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Salmonella
  • Shigella
  • Listeria

Food poisoning occurs when any food that you ingest becomes contaminated by one of the germs or bacteria, of which there are many. This usually happens with food that is contaminated or under-cooked. In its most common form now, food poisoning is a result of food that comes from factory farms where cross-contamination is hard to stem; at home, the cause is either under-cooked, or uncleaned meet, eggs, vegetables, etc…

In the best of circumstances, avoiding food poisoning is relatively easy; if you properly clean and cook your food- you shouldn’t have any problems. That means proper prep, using clean cutting boards that are meat-only and veggie-only; as well as scrubbing all vegetables to remove dirt, bacteria and insects or eggs. For proper cooking, just get a good meat thermometer and commit these to memory:

  • Fresh beef or lamb: 145 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Fresh Pork: 145 degrees
  • Fresh Chicken: 165 degrees
  • Eggs: 160 degrees, or until yolk and white are firm 

Of course, no one has control over every single meal they eat. There are meals out, dinner parties, roadside food stops; eventually it will catch up with you. Treating food poisoning is largely a waiting game, let food poisoning run its course while keeping the patient resting and hydrated. There will be diarrhea and vomiting a lot at first, this is a tricky time because you need to make sure they stay hydrated- but too much and you will only make keeping things down that much harder. So keep them sipping a drink of water every few minutes, and eating should wait for at least a full day to avoid triggering any further stomach irritation. Monitor temperature to make sure that their fever never tops 101 degrees, at which point you will have to try breaking the fever.

In an emergency situation, especially an extended one, food poisoning becomes more prevalent and much more serious. Often, food poisoning will come from people being in a survival-type mode and eating whatever they can find- even if it is suspect. While desperation can set it if you aren’t careful and prepared, you cannot succumb to these kinds of actions, you will only endanger yourself and your party. Another problem in survival or emergency situations is that cleanliness and proper preparation give way to survival. Cross-contamination is never given a second thought, and hunger usually replaces taking the time to prepare a clean cooking surface- or even cleaning food at all. Add to that the lack of sanitary conditions overall, with less hand washing and more danger of fecal contamination- and you have a recipe for some debilitating food poisoning.

While being in an emergency situation does present more opportunities for food poisoning, the same rules apply for limiting your risk. Carefully washing your hands with hot (or at least warm) water and soda vigorously to remove harmful bacteria will greatly reduce the risk of contamination, as well taking a few minutes to at least try and prepare a clean cooking and prep surface. As for treatment, hydration is key, but electrolyte-rich drinks are the most helpful to rehydrate. While you may not be able to run to the convenience store for a sports drink, you can mix up your own with just two simple ingredients.

Rehydrating Drink:

  • 6 level teaspoons of sugar
  • 1/2 level teaspoon of salt
  • 1 liter of cool, clean drinking water

Food poisoning is a serious condition, and even though we are largely able to dismiss it as a mere inconvenience; the fact is that over 10,000 people die from food poisoning every year. It is not a situation to take lightly and ignore, especially in an emergency situation where stakes are higher and everyone needs to be operating at 100%. Properly prepare and cook your food and practice proper hygiene and never be a burden to your group or endanger your own health.

Category: Medical, Survival Guides

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