Boil Water Order or Interrupted Water Service Guidelines

Boil Water Order


The Safest approach is to drink and cook with bottled water or water previously stored in the refrigerator. If you have to use tap water, boil it vigorously for at least three (3) minutes. If you cannot boil it, add eight drops of household bleach to each gallon of water. Mix thoroughly and allow to stand for 30 minutes. This method should be used only with water that is clean in appearance and free of odor.

Caution should be used in storage and handling of bottled water. It should not be stored where it will be exposed to sunlight, and it should not be placed in areas where the temperature is elevated (e.g., on asphalt that has been in the sun).

Two sources of water within the home that can be used for some purposes are the hot water heater and the top tank (not the bowl) of the toilet. Hot water heaters generally hold up to 30 gallons. If water from either of these sources is used for drinking or cooking, it should be boiled first.

Remember, do not use contaminated water to make ice, coffee, brush your teeth or wash dishes. If there is a shortage of safe drinking water, use clean disposable eating utensils, plates and napkins.

How to Purify Water:

Boiling: Boil vigorously at a rolling boil for 1 to 3 minutes. To improve taste pour from one container to another several times.

Purification Tablets: Available at any drug store. Follow directions of package.

Bleach Purification: Liquid household bleach can also be used. It must contain hypochlorite, preferably 5.25%, add according to table below, then stir to mix.




1 quart    /    2 drops    /    4 drops

1 gallon.   /    8 drops    /    16 drops

5 gallons    /    1/2 teaspoon    /    1 teaspoon


To continue operating under “boil water” orders or interrupted water services from municipal supplies, all retail food service establishments (restaurants) must secure and use potable water from an approved source (e.g., from tank trucks or bottled potable water) for all water usage. This includes for the following uses:

  • Coffee, tea, other beverages made in the food establishment
  • Ice
  • Washing produce or thawing frozen foods
  • Employees hand washing
  • Washing all dishes and cooking utensils
  • All water used in 3-compartment sinks
  • All water for sanitizing solutions

It must be noted that equipment plumbed directly into the water system such as direct feed coffee urns, ice machines that manufacture ice on site, and post-mix soda or beverage machines may not be used during the boil order.

If it is not possible to obtain water from tank trucks or bottled potable water and if a heat source is available, boil the water vigorously (water should be bubbling and rolling) for one minute (FDA, 2006). Retail food establishments may consider the following alternative procedures to minimize water usage:

  • Commercially-packaged ice may be substituted for ice made on-site.
  • Single-service items or disposable utensils may be substituted for reusable dishes and utensils.
  • Pre-prepared foods from approved sources may be used in place of complex preparations on-site.
  • Restrict menu choices or hours of operation.
  • Portable toilets may be made available for sanitary purposes.

After “boil water” order is lifted or water service resumes, these precautionary measures must be followed:

  • Run all water lines for one minute to flush contaminated water from system. This includes each fill point for post-mix soda and beverage machines.
  • Clean and sanitize all fixtures, sinks and equipment connected to water lines.
  • Run your dishwasher empty through three complete cycles to flush the water lines and assure that the dishwasher is cleaned internally before washing equipment and utensils in it.
  • Discard all ice in ice machines; clean and sanitize (1 tablespoon of unscented regular bleach per gallon of potable water) the interior surfaces; run the ice through 3 cycles; and discard ice with each cycle.
  • Replace all ice machine filters and beverage dispenser filters and flush all water lines for 10 to 15 minutes.

Frequently Asked Questions About Operating Under A Boil Order

What does a boil order mean?
It means the water that comes out of the tap should not be used for drinking, brushing your teeth, cooking or washing fruits and vegetables. You should use bottled water for these activities.
How long should I boil my water for?
The affected tap water should be brought to a rolling boil for 3-5 minutes before being used.
Why has the boil order been called?
A boil order has been issued to your water system because either recent testing has shown the presence of organisms that could cause illness (e.g., fecal or E. coli bacteria), or technical/physical problems in the water system have significantly increased the possibility of bacterial contamination.
Can I drink the water?
During a boil order, only bottled water or water that has been boiled for 3-5 minutes should be consumed or used to wash dishes, wash fruits/vegetables, make ice cubes or brush teeth.
Can I wash my hands with this water?
The Greene County Health Department recommends that bottled water or water boiled for 3-5 minutes should be used for handwashing. When this is not practical, it is recommended that if tap water must be used to wash and rinse, it should be followed up with the use of a hand sanitizer and allowed to dry. Consuming unsafe water is the most likely way to become ill. Using extra precautions with hand washing ensures that hands are clean for eating.
Can I shower or take a bath in this water?
Yes, it is safe to shower or bathe in the water. The primary concern is that the water not be consumed. Instruct children not to put the water in their mouth when they are bathing. When bathing infants, extra precaution should be taken and the Greene County Health Departments recommends the use of bottled water or water that has been boiled for 3-5 minutes and cooled for use.
How do I wash my dishes?
Use bottled water or water that has been boiled for 3-5 minutes to wash and rinse dishes. Home dishwashers can not be assured to completely kill organisms that may be in the water.
Can I wash my clothes in the water?
Yes you may continue to use the water to wash clothes. The major concern is consuming the water.
Is it safe to eat in restaurants under a boil order?
The local municipality is responsible for checking area restaurants to confirm that safe practices are being followed. Special procedures are required for them to ensure that food preparation and handling is done in a safe manner. Additional procedures are also required to provide safe dishwashing.
What do we need to do when the boil order is lifted?
When the order is lifted you should flush the buildings water lines and clean the faucet screens. Also purge water-using fixtures and appliances of standing water and/or ice. This includes changing the water filter on refrigerators and any other equipment with filters.
Are swimming pools safe?
They are safe as long as proper levels of treatment are maintained. Water from swimming pools should never be consumed.
Can my pets drink the water?
Animals generally are affected in the same way as people by contaminants in the water. An individual may give their pet bottled water or water that has been boiled for 3-5 minutes and cooled if they choose. Fish tanks should not be affected.
Is it safe to breast feed during the boil order after bathing in the water?
Cleaning the breast area with soap and bottled water or water boiled for 3-5 minutes and cooled prior to feeding will provide assurance that the child not ingest contaminants that may be on the skin.
I am on a well, am I affected?
Anyone who receives a bill from water services from the local municipality that is under a boil order should observe the boil order.
Are vending machines that mix drinks safe? (Coffee, Tea & Hot Chocolate machines)
These machines that use tap water should not be used until the boil order has been lifted.
Who can be affected?
Anyone who ingests contaminated water may become ill. Infants, young children, the elderly, and people with severely compromised immune systems are more at risk of illness.
What are the symptoms of water-borne illness?
Disease symptoms may include diarrhea, cramps, nausea and possible jaundice and associated headaches and fatigue. Symptoms may appear as early as few hours to several days after infection and may last more than two weeks. These symptoms, however, are not just associated with disease-causing organisms in drinking water; they may also be caused by a number of other factors. If you are ill with these symptoms, contact your health care provider.
What if I drank water already?
There is nothing you can do about the exposure you have already received. If you become ill, contact your health care provider. Follow the above recommendations about using your water until you are told the water is safe again.
How long will be boil order remain in effect?
Each boil order situation is different, making it impossible to predict how long the boil order will remain in effect. It will not be lifted until testing shows that the water meets public health standards. Your local water system will notify you when the boil order is lifted.