Overlanding through Africa comes with some unique challenges. Political unrest, non-existent 4×4 tracks, potholes, impromptu “toll gates” manned by drunkards brandishing AK47s… the list goes on. One of the less talked-about hazards though, is food poisoning. Glyn Demmer puts on a brave face, and tells us more
It’s one of the worst niggles that can spoil an overland expedition – gastrointestinal problems, commonly known to travelers as the “trots”, “runs” or “gastro”. Make no mistake, this is not a subject for a fireside conversation but it can seriously dampen the spirits on an expedition, more so if multiple members have the bug
So let’s start with overland trip rules and regulations, decree 101: “Each vehicle shall carry a shovel and multiple rolls of toilet paper”. Okay, so seriously now. What can be done to avert the onset of a gastro attack? Firstly, bear in mind that some factors are out of your control when eating at restaurants and cafés or picking up food at a small vendor or service station. That makes basic hygiene doubly important.
Attention to the highest standards of hygiene is a must and will greatly reduce the risk of travelers getting sick – and in severe cases becoming a serious liability. Fellow travelers who have fallen victim to food poisoning can cost you time, and time equates to hours or even days lost. Running behind schedule can also interfere with your itinerary and accommodation arrangements en route.
So, when you are camping, critical attention should be given to the following factors:
- The water supply
- Areas to wash dishes
- Food storage
- Waste disposal
Hands must be washed prior to cooking and working with food. Salads and so on should be washed with drinking water to avoid contamination, and all cloths and boards should be washed with a diluted solution of bleach to keep them germ free. Pay special attention to the cleanliness of knife blades and scissors as well when preparing food.
Ideally, dishes should be washed in hot soapy water and rinsed afterwards. Any residue, such as fat or soap, could cause tummy problems within a short time. Raw food should be prepared away from already cooked food. The food should be eaten on clean plates with clean utensils and reheating should be avoided. Special attention Should be taken when preparing raw meat and with any dairy products.
Foodstuffs should be stored within steel or similar containers that are scavenger proof, and fridges should be run at all times if possible. Frozen goods should be Packed from the bottom up (last meals at the bottom). Avoid opening fridges too often as this can also cause contents to spoil.
Some Important Tips
- Always wash hands and scrub nails before cooking. Keep fingernails short on a trip as this is more hygienic and you have less risk of them getting caught on something and tearing
- Change clothes regularly, especially if you are cooking a lot. Aprons and cloths should be disinfected or boiled and dried
- Allocate specific chopping boards and do not rotate them. Meat, vegetables, salads and bread should all have their own boards
- Clean and disinfect chopping boards. Meal times are an important “social occasion” on a trip and should be treated as such.
- Children need to be fed, so regular times should be set and adhered to
- For the unforeseeable delays, snack packs should be available
- If you are constantly on the move, packed meals should be prepared after breakfast and kept in coolers or fridges
- Identify any medication requirements /(malaria prophylaxis) and try to time it so that the group members all take their medication at a particular meal each day
Aqua – The Giver of Happiness
One should carry as much drinkable water with you as is possible, and use water provided in camps only for showering and filling mobile shower containers. Water needs should be evaluated before the trip and on a long overland expedition the responsibility should be allocated to an individual. Let’s call him/her henceforth Aquarius”.
Aquarius should ensure that all members of the touring party know which water containers are purified and safe to drink, and which are not. Bear in mind that while you may shower in untreated water it is not safe to use for brushing your teeth! Adequate drinking water is a must and everyone should drink enough water to pass at least a litre of clear urine per day. Remember, intake will vary on a daily basis depending on temperature and the level of activity the group engages in. And no, beer does not qualify as water and can in fact lead to dehydration.
Aquarius should also ensure that drinking water is available in suitable container sizes that are readily accessible. Carry enough water at all times as you cannot afford to make unreasonable demands on locals should you run short – this resource is scarce enough in Africa! Water should not be wasted and touring party members must be careful not to contaminate drinking water through negligence.
If possible take a purifier as a back-up system, as you never know when you may need it. It really is a worthwhile investment! Check the camp latrines and when camping outdoors ensure that you construct private, hygienic “cat” latrines that are suitable for your group’s size.
Torches are a must for nocturnal visits and one should check the seat and under the seat for snakes and insects, especially if you have rigged a semi-permanent loo! The seat should also be regularly wiped with disinfectant but do not pour disinfectant into the loo. If possible, place a basin close to the toilet – hand-washing equates to basic hygiene after any visit to a toilet. Your litter should be carried out and organic matter disposed of in a suitable fashion. Organic waste can be burnt and buried. Tins, plastic, glass and Styrofoam containers should be cleaned, compressed and packed away. And this should be done after each meal to reduce the risk of scavengers.
If you stick to these rules you should be able to enjoy a “gastro-free” overland expedition!