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Avoiding Cross Contamination

The following is posted with the generous permission of my good friends at Survival Dispatch. I wrote it for their on-line magazine, Insider. Please check out their site as a thank you for their kindness in letting me share it here.

Having adequate supplies of food and water in conjunction with appropriate shelter is the cornerstone of preparedness. However, in the absence of proper habits and management of any of the above, your efforts may be for naught. Today I will focus on food preparation in circumstances that are less than ideal.

While it's tempting to take short cuts when all is well, observing proper food handling techniques will become crucial to survival when living circumstances become compromised; the worse the situation, the more critical the proper observance of avoiding contamination of one's food and preparation area.

According to the CDC, there are 5 main causes of food poisoning: Novovirus, salmonella, clostridium perfringens, campylobacter, and staphylococcus. Unless an individual is very young, very old, or immuno-compromised, most people who encounter these pathogens will recover on their own. Botulism, Listeria, E. coli and vibrio, while not as common, frequently require hospitalization.

When our normal lives become disrupted, proper food handling becomes imperative, as our bodies will already be stressed and those who are vulnerable may not get proper medical treatment. Habits we take for granted when all is well can literally become matters of life and death should our lives are disrupted by a survival situation, short or long-term. When challenged, it is easy to overlook practices such as basic hygiene, but this is the time it becomes mandatory.

Practice proper hygiene and sanitation of food preparation areas, no matter how difficult times may be. Consider storing water in used soap bottles, as you will have a supply of water for cleaning that will not tax your supply of drinking water. Keep supplies on hand to keep your food preparation areas clean as well, such as disinfectant cleaners, and even some wipes. Make sure all surfaces and utensils are cleaned before and after use with hot soapy water.

Cross contamination is the spreading of pathogens from one surface to another, or one food to another. It can occur when one is handling fresh meat, and then touches items in the surrounding area, such as a sink, counter top, pan handle, cabinet or refrigerator handle, door handle, etc. and becomes a problem when someone unsuspecting of the contamination touches the same surface and fails to wash their hands. It can also occur when preparing raw meat on the same cutting surface as fruits and/or vegetables or other food items that may not require cooking, such as breads.

How to Prevent Cross Contamination

The importance of proper hand washing practices cannot be overstated. It is easy to skip this step, but, if the means to do so are kept readily available, it's done with little inconvenience. Have a dispenser of soap near your sink, preferably one with a pump so you can avoid spreading germs to the container; if you are planning your kitchen, consider having fixtures that are operated with a minimal amount of contact with your hands, and that are easily cleaned. Use cutting boards you can sanitize for meats, poultry and seafood. Have separate boards for other foods, such as fruits, vegetables, or breads. Counter tops that can be sanitized, such as granite, are also useful; avoid doing food preparation on surfaces with grout. Eggs can contain salmonella, so be sure to wash your hands when working with them, and dispose of the shells properly right away, rather than leaving them on the counter.

Keep raw meats, poultry, etc., separate from other ingredients or side dishes that are ready to eat. Thoroughly prepare these items before adding other ingredients, or even other meats to those that are almost cooked. Thoroughly cook one batch before adding more meats, bearing in mind to never pour any marinade over the finished product.

Make sure all meats are properly cooked, and have a means by which to measure their temperatures. Take any leftovers you have and store them properly, at a temperature that will prevent the growth of bacteria. Keep such foods separated even when stored, before and after cooking, for optimal safety.

Proper clean-up after preparation is essential. Wash all dishes, utensils and equipment thoroughly in hot soapy water; you may even add a bit of bleach to the final rinse. If it is difficult to find or keep towels to dry them, let them air dry in a disinfected area, and make sure your hands are clean once again before putting them away. It is also not a bad idea to take a disinfectant wipe and wipe down surfaces and handles as a final step.

In the event there is a food-borne illness in the household, it is imperative to keep all surfaces that family members may touch pathogen-free. Wipe down all doorknobs, faucet fixtures and toilet flushing handles. This can prevent illness from spreading to other members of the household and into your community.

Remember, when times are difficult, you will have to be at your best. People may already be suffering from stress and fatigue, and if pathogens get the best of you, it will impair your ability to care for your family, particularly if you live in a harsh environment. Your group or community's ability to remain productive and safe depends on staying healthy, and while it may be a struggle if times get tough, it can be done if proper attention is paid to prevention of the spread of disease.

Medical services may be difficult to obtain, or they may become unavailable; take the time to prepare before trouble strikes. This can literally mean the difference between life and death. A simple lapse of judgment in the interest of expediency can be a life-changing event in times of trouble. If you aren't currently practicing these safety techniques, start today, so they will be second nature in the event of times of hardship and struggle. Your group or community's ability to remain productive and safe depends on staying healthy, and proper attention to disease prevention will keep you on your feet.

For more information on preparedness and self-reliance, please check out our podcast, The Red Hot Chilly Prepper. You can support our show here or on the home page on this website. As always, I'm happy to answer any questions and help you on your way to self-reliance.

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