Somewhere around the country, nearly every day, there's a boil order issued by health departments in communities that are having problems with the water supply. So, what's a boil order? It's an advisory that is announced, usually over local radio or TV stations, telling residents that they need to boil their drinking water to prevent illness.
The illness may be caused by any number of bacteria, virus, or other living organisms that find their way into the public water supply. The causes of contamination can be a natural disaster such as flood, earthquake, landslide, etc. Or it can result from such things as a broken water line, broken sewage lines that permit intermingling of sewage with the community water supply, or equipment failure in the water delivery system.
Advice accompanying a boil order usually says to boil all drinking water for 3 minutes. The word boil mean a rolling boil, with vigorous bubbling. And this should be done to all water that will be use in any part of food preparation — diluting soups, juice concentrates, rehydrating mashed potatoes, mixing gravy, making ice cubes etc., not just for the water you drink.
Another consideration is that the water you use to wash dishes needs to be clean, or else you risk contaminating the dishes. Rather than boiling the dishwashing water, you can treat it chemically by using a mixture of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach per 5 gallons of water. Let it stand for at least 30 minutes before using, to give it time to kill the organisms. Be aware that not all organisms will be killed by chlorine, giardia being one example. Iodine is better at inactivating giardia cysts than chlorine, but iodine causes health problems for some people. Effectiveness of chemicals at disinfecting water is heavily dependent on water temperature, pH level, and clarity. The colder and cloudier the water, the longer it takes for the chemicals to be effective.
Water used for bathing doesn't usually need to be boiled first, but the water used for washing and rinsing hands and face should be sanitized before use. And be careful not to allow contaminated water near open wounds or rashes.
To survive a boil order with the least amount of hassle or risk, place in your emergency storage a few days' supply of paper plates, plastic utensils and cups, and at least a week's worth of bottled drinking water. Use large zip baggies to serve as mixing bowls and storage containers for leftovers. That minimizes the amount of dish washing that needs to be done.