Friday’s Precautionary Boil Water Advisory for the Town of St. Marys sent some food service providers scrambling to find traditional coffeemakers and implement other back-up plans, as the Perth District Health Unit (PDHU) cautioned against consuming water that hadn’t undergone a rolling boil for at least one minute.
At the Coffee Culture café on Queen Street, coffee wasn’t on the menu through most of Friday morning, as Manager Brittany Morgan went to Stratford to obtain a pair of coffeemakers that allow for manual addition of water. The café’s regular coffeemakers are hooked directly into the water system, and do not boil the water for a full minute prior to making the coffee.
The same was true in the kitchen at the Kingsway Lodge nursing home. According to Director of Dietary, Lori Johnson, coffee had to be made in alternative coffeemakers — an older style, to which water could be added manually, after being boiled to comply with the Advisory’s recommendations.
A similar level of caution had to be exercised for juices, which are normally dispensed through a juice machine hooked into the water system. Single-serve juices were purchased . . . along with a large quantity of bottled water to help keep residents hydrated.
Ice-making machines were also taken out of service across the Stonetown on Friday morning. Even after the alternative coffeemakers were brought in to Coffee Culture, customers looking for a cool-down were sipping iced coffee — without the ice.
At Damen’s Restaurant on Water Street, water is normally served to diners from the tap, with ice. But both of those practices were stopped with the Precautionary Advisory. Instead, the restaurant’s operators stocked up on bottled water to serve with meals.
Other than that, the effects at Damen’s were minimal. As with all food service providers and food-related businesses — as well as pregnant women and people with certain health ailments — the restaurant received a telephone call directly from the PDHU on Friday morning, detailing the stipulations of the Advisory and clarifying what measures should be taken.
At Damen’s, the dishwasher uses a high enough temperature of water, for a sufficient amount of time, that the cleaned dishes were deemed by the PDHU to be safe for use. Most commercial dishwashers were fine for use.
Restaurant owners and other food service providers weren’t the only people rushing to purchase bottled water, however. Many private citizens also stocked up, after hearing that it would probably be Sunday at the earliest before the tap water was deemed once again to be safe for consumption.
Ron McDonald, owner of the St. Marys Independent, told the Journal Argus early Friday afternoon that the Queen Street East grocery store wasn’t out of bottled water . . . not quite. But it was getting close, and McDonald was eagerly awaiting the arrival of 24 more skids of the product sometime later that afternoon.
“Hopefully we’ll see that before 5:30 today,” he said.
One of the main challenges faced at many facilities where hot food is prepared was the requirement that no kitchen steamers be used. The hot water used in these appliances is not boiled sufficiently to comply with the Precautionary Advisory.
“We’re not producing any product right now that requires hot water,” offered McDonald, regarding the St. Marys Independent’s ready-prepared food counter. “It’s a challenge, but we’re complying.”
At Kingsway Lodge, meanwhile, the kitchen staff implemented an alternative meal plan, utilizing foods that could be prepared on the stovetop instead of through steaming.
“It’s a lot heavier workload on the cooks,” Johnson explained. “We’ve got in an extra order of groceries today, just to help them out.”
All three swimming pools operated by the Town of St. Marys (Cadzow, the Pyramid Centre, and the Quarry) remained open for business. But the outdoor splash pad at the Pyramid Centre was closed, as were all drinking fountains operated by the Town.
The Precautionary Boil Water Advisory included the following recommendations:
“Boil your water at a rolling boil for at least one minute. Use boiled or bottled water to drink; gargle, brush your teeth or rinse dentures; feed to pets; wash fruits, vegetables and other food; prepare food; make ice, juices, pudding and other mixes; and make baby food or formula.”
“When bathing or showering, (do not) swallow any water . . . Adults, teens and older children can use tap water for baths and showers (but residents should) wash small children with a sponge or cloth instead of tub baths or showers . . . You can wash your hands as you normally do: under warm running water with soap.”
At Kingsway, however, Johnson says staff initiated an extra level of handwashing protocol once the Precautionary Advisory was announced. Hands were washed with hot water and disinfectant soap as usual, but an additional use of hand sanitizer was also implemented.
The Health Unit also included the following recommendation regarding the lifting of the Advisory. Once the all clear is given, the agency advised, “run cold water faucets for one minute before using the water. Flush all garden hoses by running cold water through them for one minute. Run water softeners through a regeneration cycle. Drain and refill hot water heaters set below 45ºC (normal setting is 60 ºC).”
For more information about the safety of municipal water for consumption, contact the Health Unit at 519-271-7600.