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Food Safety for Industry

'Boil Water' Emergencies

The photo shows water being boiled on a stove.Legal requirements and guidelines for retail food service establishments during water contamination emergencies.

Any number of events can cause a water contamination or ‘boil water’ emergency, including a sewage overflow, a water line break, a chemical spill, a natural disaster such as hurricane or flood, or some other unusual event.

Contaminated Water Can Make People Very Sick

If any of these events occur, the water from your tap could be contaminated with fecal matter or other kinds of dangerous substances.

Your customers and staff could get very sick if they drink contaminated water or eat food prepared with it.

Your Local Water Provider May Issue a Boil Water Advisory or Notice

If an incident occurs that could potentially contaminate local tap water, your water provider may issue a boil water advisory. DHEC strongly recommends that food service establishments (including restaurants, grocery stores, schools, childcare facilities, correctional facilities, convenience stores, ice plants, hospitals, nursing homes and community residential care facilities) follow boil water advisories issued for their geographic area.

Whenever there is proof that local water supplies have been contaminated, your local water provider will issue a mandatory boil water notice. DHEC requires that food service establishments follow boil water notices issued in their geographic areas.

Boil Water Advisory (Possible Contamination)

A boil water advisory means that your local water provider has reason to believe your water could potentially be contaminated.

Take these voluntary steps to ensure that the water used in your food service establishment is safe:

  1. Stop using appliances and equipment that use drinkable water, such as dish machines, ice machines, fountainheads, drinking fountains, tea brewers and coffee makers.
  2. Use disposable paper, plastic or foam plates, cups, forks, etc.
  3. Prepare food using water that has been boiled.
  4. Wash hands with water that has been boiled and cooled.
  5. Wash, rinse and sanitize pots, pans and other equipment with water that has been boiled and cooled.

Boil Water Notice (Certain Contamination)

A boil water notice means your local water supplier has proof that local water supplies are contaminated. Food service establishments in South Carolina are required to follow these steps when a boil water notice is issued in their geographic area.

If you cannot follow these steps, and you have no other options (such as using bottled water or modifying your menu so that water is not needed), you MUST STOP all food service activity until your water supply is declared safe by DHEC or your local water authority.

  1. Stop using all appliances and equipment that require water, such as dish machines, ice machines, fountainheads, drinking fountains, tea brewers and coffee makers.
  2. Use disposable paper, plastic or foam plates, cups, forks, etc.
  3. Prepare food using water that has been boiled.
  4. Wash your hands with water that has been boiled and cooled.
  5. Wash, rinse and sanitize pots, pans and other equipment with water that has been boiled and cooled.

When Water Supply is Temporarily Unavailable

Depending on the length of the outage and the type of food you serve, you may need to modify your menu, use bottled water or other options, or stop operations until water service has been restored.

How to Purify Contaminated Water with Bleach

Add 1 teaspoon of bleach to every 4 gallons of water.If you cannot boil contaminated water to kill impurities, you can use bleach:

  • Use unscented liquid chlorine bleach containing 4 to 6 percent available or free chlorine. (“Free” chlorine has not combined with organic matter and is therefore available for killing bacteria and algae.)
  • Add 1 teaspoon of bleach to every 4 gallons of water.
  • Let the treated water stand for 30 minutes before drinking or for food-related purposes.

When Water Supply is Contaminated by Chemicals

Never use water that has been or may have been contaminated with chemicals. Do not use it for cooking, drinking, hand washing, pets, etc., until the water has been declared safe by DHEC or your local water authority.

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