Water safety includes safety concerns for both drinking water and water supplies. One of the major concerns associated with drinking water is the presence of different contaminants, including disease-causing germs and chemicals, such as lead.
For additional information on lead in drinking water, check out this page.
Watch Out for Water Safety
An extended closure or reduced operation of a building - such as a school or a childcare facility - and reductions in normal water use can lead to stagnant or standing water in a plumbing and water system.
Stagnant water inside the plumbing and water systems of buildings may become unsafe to drink or use and may create hazards for returning occupants.
Types of water-related hazards that may result include mold, Legionella (the cause of Legionnaires' disease), and contamination with metals from corroded plumbing, such as lead and copper. See the tips below to address the water safety of a building prior to resuming normal operations.
Water Supply Safety
To ensure the safety of your water supply:
Partner with Others
Work with your building maintenance staff and a water professional to ensure the building's water system is routinely inspected and functioning properly. Check with your local public health department to learn more about requirements and recommendations.
Flush the System
Flush the plumbing in a water system to replace the water inside the building's pipes with fresh water. This is done by opening water outlets (e.g., faucets) and letting both cold and hot (120°F or above, where possible) water run at all points of use.
Flushing times are heavily dependent on a variety of factors including the type of plumbing system, water outlets, water pressure, and the facility's size. Work with your building maintenance staff and your local water utility for information about your building.
Instructions may vary for equipment with food contact and non-food contact surfaces:
- Equipment with food contact surfaces should typically be flushed for at least 10 to 15 minutes, followed by cleaning and sanitizing, according to the manufacturer's instructions, before use (e.g., ice machines, drinking fountains, and beverage machines).
- Equipment with non-food contact surfaces should typically be flushed for at least 5 minutes before use (e.g., restroom sinks, utility sinks).
- Equipment with food contact surfaces typically require additional cleaning steps in addition to flushing, such as replacing filters that cannot be cleaned.
- The Conference for Food Protection (CFP) Emergency Action Plan for Retail Food Establishments and Association for Food and Drug Officials (AFDO) Food Emergency Regulator Pocket Guide provide more information about flushing water systems in foodservice establishments.
Test the Supply
Local water utilities or health departments may conduct testing for lead in drinking water upon request, which can be compared to previous levels to identify changes in lead and other contaminant levels in the water supply. Consult your building maintenance staff and local water utility for more information about testing.
Document any actions taken to prevent standing water or to maintain water quality so that necessary steps for reopening can be identified and verified.
Drinking Water Safety
Drinking water standards and regulations are set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assure that the public water supply is clean and safe, including the water supplies in schools and childcare facilities.
Routinely clean drinking water sources and areas, including faucets and water fountains, even during extended closures.
Encourage children to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before and after touching the water fountain and teach them not to place their mouths on water fountain spouts.
The CDC provides Guidance for Reopening Buildings After Prolonged Shutdown or Reduced Operation to ensure the safety of your occupants and building water system and devices.
The EPA provides Information on Maintaining or Restoring Water Quality in Buildings with Low or No Use as well as a checklist for Restoring Water Quality in Buildings for Reopening.
FNS's Office of Food Safety works collaboratively with the Institute of Child Nutrition to create and publish resources for child nutrition professionals. The ICN's water emergency materials provide school nutrition programs with resources for planning, maintaining operations, and recovering from a loss of water service.