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The Best Way To Handle Boil Water Alerts in Your Restaurant

Each year across the United States, thousands of boil water alerts or advisories are issued. These advisories are issued when there is an actual or strong possibility of bacterial contamination in the drinking water. Generally, water advisories are issued when there is a concern due to:

  1. Manufacturing processes
  2. Sewer overflows
  3. Low water pressure
  4. The use of farming pesticides and fertilizers
  5. Pipe leaks, main breaks, or scheduled maintenance
  6. Major storms or natural disasters (note in September, 600,000 went for weeks without clean water after Hurricane Laura).

If there is a threat of widespread contamination or during power outages after a hurricane, city governments and municipal water suppliers must inform the public of any potential dangers.

Going without clean tap water for over a week can be a major headache for households. But the headache is magnified for businesses! 

Boil advisory precautionary measures can be time-consuming, and costly. Each time an advisory is issued, hundreds of restaurants and businesses that handle food, must go to great effort and expense to ensure they do not put the public at risk.

study conducted by the University of Missouri revealed that water service disruptions can cost businesses from $100 to $400,000. Most food and beverage establishments require significant steps to ensure food safety. 

Here are four ways that you can operate your business during a boil water alert or advisory: 

  1. Install a water treatment system that kills waterborne bacteria and viruses;
  2. Purchase water and ice outside the boil water advisory area;
  3. Freeze food to kill bacteria. Frozen food water does not pose a risk if the food has been frozen for 7+ days at 5-14 degrees Fahrenheit or 24 hours at -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Read this EPA memo to find out more; and  
  4. Boil water for at least 2 minutes to kill potential bacteria.


Make sure your Food Handling Equipment is Safe


What does a restaurant, school, or business in the food handling industry need to do when a boil water advisory is issued? In general, all equipment that processes or uses water should be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.


  1. Provide bottled or treated drinking water for your customers; 
  2. Clean out and sanitize coffee machines, soda fountains and ice machines; 
  3. Sanitize water coolers. Water coolers usually operate on reverse osmosis (RO) technology; therefore, RO systems cannot filter or treat the waterborne virus, bacteria, and other microbiological contaminants.
  4. Wash, rinse, and sanitize dishes manually from an approved water source or use boiled tap water.
  5. Make sure all water used in food preparation has been purified and sanitize all food-contact surfaces 

If you own reverse osmosis or other filtration equipment, sanitize the system. When cleaning and sanitizing this equipment, you should carefully follow the owner’s manual instructions.


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