Sanitation During Disasters

As critical as it is to maintain personal hygiene, it’s equally important to sanitize everything we use and come into contact with daily. This includes our food, silverware, garbage, waste disposal, clothing, towels, and supplies for babies and pets.


Sanitation tips and solutions


Food


If you shop at a grocery store, you can anticipate that bacteria is to be found just about anywhere. Not only do hundreds of people shop at the same store day after day, but people touch everything. If you’re in the fresh produce aisle, you’ll notice people picking through the fruits and veggies until they find the one they want. Here are some tips you may have already heard but are worth mentioning.

Prior to consumption:

  • Always inspect the food
  • Wash canned goods and fresh produce with potable water
  • Peel the fruits and veggies that have skin
  • Disinfect all countertops that are used in food preparation
  • Sanitize all tables and countertops used for eating

Note: Flies and other bugs contribute to the spread of diseases. Get a net or cloth to cover your food from flies.

Dispose of any food scraps, such as compost and leftovers, by burying them a significant distance away from your home, or by burning them in a bonfire pit. You want to avoid attracting hungry animals to your living quarters (or campsite if you’re outdoors).


Cups, dishes, and utensils


When you're in the midst of an emergency or when your resources are temporarily cut short, you might find it difficult and inconvenient to wash all the materials you used for food preparation and eating. Have a stockpile of paper or plasticware. This will make clean-up much easier for the time being, especially if there’s limited potable water.

Should the disposable materials run out, wash your eating supplies with dishwashing soap. Then, if you’d like, disinfect them in a sanitizing solution (a few drops of bleach added to a bucket of clean water) and air dry them on a clean towel.


Garbage


There is the possibility that garbage pick-up services may be interrupted as a community recovers from a disaster event. Garbage attracts many unwanted rodents to your home, and unfortunately, many of these rodents are carriers of infectious diseases. For this reason, you need to learn how to dispose of garbage in a safe manner.

During a long-term emergency, I recommend separating your garbage in two: biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste. A safe way to dispose of the biodegradable items is by burying them in a ditch that is 12 to 18 inches deep, and about 100 to 200 feet away from your home or any water supply, such as a water well, lake, or river. If possible, bury it in a part of the property that is sloped downhill. Non-biodegradable items should be bagged and taken to a proper disposal site.


Toilet


Properly disposing of any fecal matter is crucial to prevent the spread of disease.

If you’re unable to flush your toilet, either because of a long-term power outage, or because the water or sewage pipes are broken, you should use a toilet kit instead.

A toilet kit includes a plastic bucket that is lined with WAG bags (basically the equivalent of doggie poo bags but for humans), poo powder or a disinfectant, and a tight lid to seal the bucket. For comfort, you can include a plastic toilet seat. Disinfectants include household chlorine bleach, chlorinated lime (powdered), portable toilet chemicals (these are the ones that would be used in RV’s when the toilet is not connected to the sewer line), and calcium hypochlorite.

If you want to skip the hassle, you can buy a complete toilet kit here.

Just like your biodegradable garbage, you should dispose of human waste by burying it in a 12 to 18-inch deep hole that is located about 200 feet away from any water source and the perimeter of your home. Cover the waste with dirt.


Clothing and towels


Washing your clothes and towels is a major contributor to your hygiene and overall feeling of cleanliness. If there’s no electricity, you may have to wash your clothes by hand. Hang them up to dry in the sun for the added sanitizing benefits provided by the sun’s UV rays. Note that the sun may fade your clothes, so you may only want to leave them in the direct sunlight temporarily.


Babies


If you have babies or young kids, consider doubling up on disposable items for your convenience. Have extra diapers, wet wipes, and any other items needed to make hygiene easier.


Pets


If you have pets or service animals, you will need to have a plan for them to use the bathroom indoors in the event that they cannot go outside. Consider setting up an area that will be easy for clean up, such as a tiled bathroom. Pee pads are convenient to have.


Cleaning and sanitizing with bleach


During and after emergencies, you can stay safe by cleaning surfaces and objects that you suspect may have become contaminated or have come into contact with floodwaters, etc. Use the information below for cleaning and sanitizing measurements and suggestions. When cleaning, you should wear personal protective equipment, such as a face mask, eye protection, and rubber gloves.

The charts and recommendations are provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For more information, please visit the CDC website.


Cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and food cans


Sanitizing surfaces and food cans

Cleaning and sanitizing household surfaces and items


Sanitizing household surfaces and items

Recommendations to clean mold growth off hard surfaces


Cleaning mold growth off hard surfaces

Note: Some items may be impossible to wash thoroughly and keeping them would pose a health risk. It’s best to throw those items away. These include, but are not limited to mattresses, carpets, toys, and furniture that has come into contact with floodwater and/or other contaminants.


Action Step

Now that you have insight into the best practices for keeping everything sanitized during disasters, it’s time to put together some supplies!

Download the sanitation supplies kit checklist below. Feel free to add or subtract items to the list.

Then, fill out the ‘contents list’ page, which can be kept with your kit and be used in the future to remember which items you still need to purchase or update.