Bush Hygiene with Scott Heiman
One of the greatest health risks in the bush is illness caused by poor hygiene. Bushcraft and survival specialist, Scott Heiman from Heiman Habitat, gave us some (properly stored) food for thought when we asked him about keeping clean in the dirt.
Can you tell us a bit about Heiman Habitat?
Heiman Habitat was established in 2013 as an Australian veteran, family-owned small business. Our area of expertise is bushcraft, field craft, survival craft and environmental science. This expertise is drawn from over 30 years working in the military, law enforcement and environmental management. Heiman Habitat services the outdoor recreational and professional sectors offering niche consultancies, freelance writing and editorial services. We also have an online retail arm focussing on professional grade survival kit.
So, why is bush hygiene so important, especially when camping in remote areas?
Hygiene is important. Period. Whether you’re at home or out scrub. The difference between the two is the level of risk that you may expose yourself (and others) to if you neglect hygiene when you’re operating remotely. For example, if you get a case of Bali-Belly due to poor food handling, it isn’t simply a trip to your local GP for some antibiotics and bunger-uppers. The flow-on effects (pardon the pun) are potentially more serious. Becoming dehydrated in the scrub due to diarrhoea and vomiting can have life-threatening consequences unless properly managed. And no one wants to be a statistic of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, or worse.
If you’re camping somewhere with restrictions on water and/or soap use, what are some simple ways to maintain personal hygiene?
The simple fact of not bathing (or taking suitable alternative measures) increases the chance of bacteria, fungi and yeasts becoming a threat to your health and holiday. But you don’t need a shower fitted to your rig, or a 10-litre water bucket, to keep-up basic field hygiene. You can ‘bathe’ daily using biodegradable wipes applied to your armpits, crotch, etc. The use of tinea powders on feet also helps prevent fungal infections between the toes. And, just as you can use a spray bottle to preserve water when washing your dishes, the same applies to your body. Also, look for biodegradable, nontoxic, non-hazardous, and environmentally safe wipes and soaps. And regardless of where you are, never use or discharge water with soap or toothpaste in it within 50 metres of a waterway.
Can you tell me about the safest ways to store food at camp?
Always store food in a lockable tuckerbox or in a working fridge. Inside the fridge, make sure that you use well-sealed containers to stop raw meat juices contaminating other food stuffs. While serving up a picnic or operating the BBQ, use fly nets. After all, the flies may have just been feasting on roadkill or hanging out in the camp’s drop dunny. Then, once you’ve finished eating, don’t encourage an animal invasion by leaving food and waste lying around. Critters like birds, rats, foxes and possums will contaminate your food and your preparation surfaces when your back’s turned.
What about food preparation and cooking — how can campers ensure they avoid an unwelcome case of food poisoning?
A surprising thing happened at the start of the COVID pandemic — people were having to be educated on washing their hands. But the importance of hand washing is not new, and the simple routine of washing your hands before preparing food is the single most effective way to avoid food poisoning when you’re on the road. The second most important thing is to cook your food properly and, if reheating, ensure the food is hotter than you’d find in a food warmer. It needs to get over 65 degrees Celsius to kill bacteria. Finally, ensure you maintain your 12volt system with quality batteries to keep your fridge operating effectively.
Any final, insider tips or tricks you can share?
If you’re going remote, hope for the best but plan for the worst. So, take a First Aid Course before you leave home. That way you’ll know how to respond to the effects of illness and infection. And pack a well-equipped First Aid Kit, including oral hydration salts.