Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Health
What Does a Boil Order Mean?
Karma Metzgar, C.F.C.S., Northwest Regional Director, Nodaway County Extension Center, University of Missouri Extension
Nearly every day one can listen to the radio and hear of
a community or section of a county that has been placed
under a boil order. What does this mean? Usually I’m glad
it’s somewhere else and doesn’t affect me; however, the City
of Maryville recently experienced several days of a boil
order and it did directly affect me. We were getting a lot
of questions at the office.
So, you may not be under a boil order now or are not even
anticipating that you will be; but, at some point, you may
need to know the following information with very little
notice. So, clip this article and put it where you’ll know
where to find it - inside a cupboard door, in a file marked
“boil order information” or add to your refrigerator décor.
If you have questions, another resource is your local health
department which has been a resource for information for
So, why a boil order? Usually it’s a result of flooding
(or other natural disaster), broken water lines, or pumping
difficulties. When this happens, there is contaminated water
which can cause many illnesses.
What do you do next? Boil water? Yes…but there are some
specifics about handling water and other water products in
your home. Here are some steps to put into action.
First, boil water vigorously for three minutes prior to
use. Use only boiled water for drinking, diluting fruit
juices, and all other food preparation. To improve the
flavor of the flat taste of boiled water, store in the
refrigerator and pour back and forth from one clean and
sanitized container to another. Put a cup over your faucets
as a reminder to not use untreated water - even to brush
Water could also be disinfected rather than boiled. To
disinfect water intended for drinking or cooking, add one
teaspoon unscented chlorine laundry bleach for every five
gallons of water. Let stand for 30 minutes before using. Be
sure to use sanitized food grade containers for storing
To disinfect water storage containers, pour a solution of
one tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach to a gallon of
water into a container. Let the solution remain in the
container for 10 minutes, then pour out the solution. Rinse
with purified water. Add boiled or disinfected water. Store
for up to six months.
Next, dispose of ice cubes and do not use ice from a
household automatic icemaker. Then, you will need to
disinfect dishes and other food contact surfaces by
immersion for at least one minute in water that contains one
teaspoon of unscented household bleach per gallon of water.
Allow surfaces to air dry. Some have asked about using a
household dishwasher but there are too many variables for
this to be recommended for use. Disposable tableware is an
option and is much simpler.
The health department also recommends having a
“sanitizing rinse” to wash hands. Again use the one teaspoon
of unscented chlorine bleach per gallon of water and rinse
hands frequently by pouring the rinse over the hands. Air
dry or use a paper towel.
Finally, water used for bathing does not generally need
to be boiled. Supervision of children is necessary while
bathing or using backyard pools so water is not ingested.
Persons with cuts or severe rashes may wish to consult with
I like to be prepared and hope I don’t need my emergency “boil order” kit. So, why don’t you gather a day or two’s supply of paper tableware, including gallon size plastic bags which can be mixing and serving bowls, paper towels, and a container of unscented chlorine bleach. You might also have some bottled water that you rotate every six months so you’ll have a fresh supply if you need it.
Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009