Let's Re-enact — Except the Dysentery


By Susan McLellan Plaisted, MS RD


To prevent us from reliving the dysentery and gastric disorders as part of our re-enacting history, it is imperative that concerns of food safety be followed. There is a high risk of this problem occurring with the quantities of foods that have to be transported to various historical locations.


Breads and grain products, fresh fruits and vegetable will spoil, mildew, and wilt, but they are not the primary culprits of causing food poisoning.


The prime culprits are dairy and poultry, meat and fish-based products. In protein foods, the correct temperature and moisture provided, bacteria multiply rapidly and cause food borne illnesses. High temperatures can kill the bacteria that has started to develop, but if we eat these foods without heating them to boiling, we will become sick.


Bacteria were an unknown phenomenon during the Revolution, but even at that time the men were advised that provisions ought to be boiled or roasted, never fried, baked, or broiled which methods were considered very unhealthy.


If we follow diligently, a few simple rules of food safety, food borne illnesses will be foreign to our regiments.


  1. Foods that are susceptible to food poisoning need to be carried at temperatures no higher than 45°F. This means ice or ice packs must be in food coolers and replaced as needed at the site. It is best if the temperature of the food cooler is at 45° prior to the food being placed in it. This is absolutely imperative if the meat item is not to be reheated for service: i.e., cold ham or cold turkey.
  2. Foods that are susceptible to food poisoning that are to be reheated or cooked need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 140° or brought to a full boil for 20 minutes: i.e., soups or stews.
  3. The danger zone temperatures that allow bacteria to grow rampant are between 45° and 140°. Every effort needs to be made to keep high risk foods out of this temperature zone.
  4. Leftover foods should not be used unless they can quickly be cooled to below 45°. This would mean the use of small, shallow containers and plenty of ice. If this criteria cannot be met, it is better to disregard all leftover food than risk food poisoning.

Copyright © 1996 Susan McLellan Plaisted. All rights reserved.