Austin Public Health outlines new protocols for restaurants under boil water notice

With the mandatory boil water notice in place, Austin Public Health is updating procedures for restaurants affected by it. That's because the boil water alert has placed a significant amount of stress on the Austin service industry already. 

The alternative procedures have been vetted by the CDC and only apply to restaurants while the boil water notice is in effect. 

Austin Public Health said the reason they are able to make changes is because of technological advancements. “We have 24 environmental health officers, who are licensed sanitarians, licensed by the state, and it is their job to go out into the field each and every day and inspect restaurants,” said Don Hastings, assistant director of the Environmental Health Services Division of Austin Public Health.  

Hastings said since Monday morning they have increased inspections to make sure all restaurants in the city are following boil water alert protocols. 

“They have found, on occasion, some instances where the staff at a restaurant, it appeared they were going in the wrong direction in terms of using food or beverage that had tap water, but we found it to be a simple matter of explanation and education,” Hastings said.  

No restaurants have been cited in regards to the boil water policies, according to Hastings, and no illnesses have been reported that can be traced back to water quality issues.

If they are, it would likely be seven to 10 days after bacteria was ingested. “There just hasn't been enough time for an illness to be reliably traced back to this boil water event,” said Hastings.  

If that happens, the symptoms could vary person to person. 

“Intestinal illness and, depending on the person and their immunity or lack thereof to those protozoa, it could be very serious. Gastrointestinal illness and, in theory, for some folks who might be particularly susceptible, it could, in theory, be fatal,” Hastings said.  

To prevent illness, Austin Public Health is working with the service industry on best practices. In the past, washing dishes or utensils during a boil water notice required using boiled or bottled water. 

“An acceptable alternative, in this particular boil water event, is to use commercial dishwashers that provide a hot-water rinse of at least 165 degrees, or a chemical sanitizing cycle,” said Hastings.  

For washing hands, the standard for restaurants was using boiled or bottled water. Now, tap water will be allowed, as long as it's followed by alcohol-based hand sanitizer and disposable gloves. 

However, when it comes to water that will be ingested, the protocol stays the same. “All water intended for consumption, including food preparation, cooking, and beverages and ice, come only from approved water sources,” Hastings said. 

Approved water sources only include bottled or boiled water. Another thing to note is that restaurants cannot use water from a filtration system no matter how advanced it might be.