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How does water-main break affect Boston restos?


As most by now should already know, because of a water-main break Boston and many (but not all) the surrounding communities are under a boil-water for at least a minute requirement.

Currently http://www.boston.com/ is carrying the story.

Cambridge gets its water from an independent source and is not affected.

Apart from Cambridge, it strikes me that certain food preparations will be more cumbersome since cold foods that require rinsing will now have to be prepared with boiled and then cooled water. Ice cube makers connected directly to water supplies will have to be shut down. As a result iced drinks will be very difficult to prepare.

Bottom line: if you want a pina colada you will probably have to get to your favorite Harvard Square watering hole.


The following are effected:

Lynnfield Water District

  1. Had to pay for $2 bottle of water today at Cafe Belo!:(

    1. I was in Artu when I heard about it. So, no tap water with the meal which is okay with me. They were boiling their water. Before I left a Boston police officer was going door to door to all the restaurants making sure everyone was aware. I live in Quincy so I guess I'll be boiling my water as well.

      1. Places like Starbucks can't serve coffee (what a shame) but the bigger restaurants should be able to deal with it with bottled water or by boiling the water.

        6 Replies
        1. re: PatsMoose

          My concern is the prep and washing of food, dishes and utensils, something we've been advised not to do using tap water, including running a dishwasher. Ditched our plans to dine out today because of these issues.

          1. re: tweetie

            Likewise, washing hands is a problem in restrooms for both patrons and workers.

            1. re: Spenbald

              We had the same concern as tweetie. I just can't imagine how a restaurant can handle the clean water issue. Certainly not what our economy needed. Though we were thinking about places like fried fish shacks that serve on paper plates?

              We will spend today grilling up food (we can avoid having to hand wash pans) to reheat as leftovers for the week. And probably get easy to clean vegetables like zucchini and corn on the cob.

              1. re: Spenbald

                Since bathing and showering in the water is considered safe, I feel quite safe washing my hands with it.

                1. re: Parsnipity

                  The advisories I've heard say you should boil the water you wash your hands with or use sanitizer.

            2. re: PatsMoose

              Saw that Starbux in Brookline Village was locked- woman tugging at the door! Don't know if a sign was posted. I'm off to buy some ice cube trays.

            3. Make sure you ask your server how they are dealing with the problem. I went to The Buttery today and asked how they were handling the issue. A server explained that their water was filtered, and that the espresso machine reached 175 degrees. I had to explain to them that filters do not remove bacteria, and that 175 degrees was not hot enough to effectively kill bacteria. They were dumbfounded, they said they had called the owner that morning and he said to open as usual. Disturbing that someone would open under those conditions.

              1 Reply
              1. re: ChickenBrocandZiti

                Shouldn't an espresso machine hit a temp much hotter than 175? It's steam at 9 bars of pressure--must be > 212, right?

              2. All restos are closed in Lexington as far as I can tell, except for Bruegger's Bagels. They're not serving any drinks other than bottled, and no veggies on the sandwiches. Their bagels come to them already boiled, so they just bake them off.

                1. Machines that rely on direct-feed water lines (e.g., many restaurant coffee makers, syrup-based soda fountains, in-house water carbonation systems, ice makers) aren't usable. The hand washing issue for workers could be addressed with alcohol-based hand sanitizers. The Boston restaurant I was at last night comped the first bottle of water, charged for subsequent ones. I suspect (but don't know) that most commercial dishwashers are sanitizing. Restaurants like Myers + Chang are boiling water for produce washing. Bagged ice is probably keeping some bars operating.

                  That South End Buttery story is disheartening. The owner is a former attorney; I'm kind of surprised he would expose himself to the potential liability issues there.


                  South End Buttery
                  314 Shawmut Avenue, Boston, MA 02118

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    I get the shivers thinking how many establishments with an ice machine will not properly clean and flush out the system, and I have no idea how that is done.

                      1. re: gyppielou

                        I believe many of them actually have a cleaning cycle. This has to be done on a regular basis, not just when there's an issue.

                        Also, it would have made a ton of sense just to turn it off once the ban started, so no contaminated water would get into it. The contaminated water didn't come on line until almost 7pm.

                        1. re: purple bot

                          Even after the water main problem is fixed, any date uncertain commercial ice cubes (from any source - - bags included) should be regarded with suspicion and discarded. Until there is a properly organized health inspection of all commercial ice making facilities (restaurants included), they must all be be shut down.

                          Although Cambridge water is safe, no Cambridge food purveyor should be allowed to get its ice from outside of Cambridge.

                          With a few exceptions, I do not take ice in any drink. I see no reason to dilute the taste.

                          Maybe we will develop European drinking preferences and not expect that every drink should contain ice cubes. Of course that won't solve the immediate far-reaching problems.

                          1. re: VivreManger

                            There's a lot to admire about Europe for food and drink, but I love the American custom of ice-chilling drinks: I drink iced coffee (espresso or filter coffee) as soon as the weather turns warm, and I like keeping a big tumbler full of iced water or seltzer at hand for drinking all day long. Fridge-chilled equivalents aren't the same to me.

                            I'll go further when it comes to alcoholic drinks: the proper balance of many highballs and most shaker drinks absolutely depends on a certain amount of ice-melt in them: chilling the ingredients and mixing them without the water of melted ice may achieve a properly cold temperature but does not produce the best-tasting drink. You shouldn't chill spirits intended for use in mixed drinks for this reason, though storing vodka or aquavit in the freezer for drinking neat is fine. I'm also of the (more controversial) camp that thinks most fine whiskey tastes better with an ice cube or two in it.

                            There is also critical textural interest provided by ice in some drinks, like the shaved ice in a properly-made julep or Mai Tai. In general, I just like the clink of ice cubes in my glass: their sound and appearance (like beautiful Kold-Draft cubes stacked in a long drink) outweigh the drawbacks of dilution in my book. I know some Europeans believe that ice-cold drinks are bad for digestion, but I don't buy that, either.


                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                              I agree with you, and your post makes me think of Drink, and all the many wonderful ways they use ice there. I wonder if they've been forced to close?

                              1. re: purple bot

                                I believe that Drink's 50-lb blocks of ice come from an icehouse in New Hampshire, but I expect the Kold-Draft machines are down for the duration. I imagine they're mostly getting by on bagged ice.

                                Very interesting Corby Kummer piece on how Boston consumers and restaurateurs are coping: it confirms some of my speculation above, and adds a lot of detail based on interviews with folks like Barbara Lynch and Gordon Hamersley. I don't always agree with Kummer's restaurant reviews, but he's a great journalist: http://www.theatlantic.com/food/archi...


                            2. re: VivreManger

                              The ice already in storage should be fine. Brookline Ice will have problems. Lake Boone should be fine.
                              Restaurants have to clean and sanitize their machines. I'm sure the local boards of health will do all they can as quickly as possible.

                      2. Windsor Dimsum Cafe was more deserted than usual today. Gotta wonder how everyone is cleaning their stuff today. I cooked dinner last night and didn't hear the news until afterwards too, so everything was probably contaminated.
                        Oh well...if it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger... :-)

                        1. I'm entertaining out-of-town visitors this weekend so it's pretty awful, especially when you decide to go to Eastern Standard without realizing the implications of a boil water alert. They wouldn't make shaken cocktails since they couldn't wash/rinse shakers without using bottled water. The news has been reporting use of bottled water for cooking, but I'm wondering whether boiling water is sufficient for liability purposes. For brunch I went to Hamersley's, and they would not serve coffee, but would serve espresso...so I'm hoping they're using bottled or preboiling the water.

                          I'm not too worried about clean dishes due to the temp of the water (at least 180 IIRC) and the multiple sanitizing agents used in commercial dishwashers. However, I was considering Chinatown seafood tonight (new golden gate or new jumbo or the peach farm), so I'm a little concerned over Chinese sanitizing practice, or the lack thereof. But if everything is cooked and nice and toasty hot, it should be fine right?

                          Eastern Standard
                          528 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: psychoandy

                            Hmm, I had a couple of cocktails at Woodward last night. Wondering how they dealt with the issue--or not? How long does giardia take to kick in?

                            1. re: davis_sq_pro

                              I'm assuming that most places used the ice they already had, or bought premade ice made well before this occurred from markets and etc. It takes at least an hour to make a load of ice in a commercial ice machine IIRC, so I doubt most places would have contaminated ice made after they switched to backup water supplies.

                              Could do it poor college student style and use 2 disposable solo cups as shakers.

                              1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                interesting question: how strong does your drink have to be to kill bacteria? maybe just certain combinations of bitters...

                                1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                  Giardiasis takes about a week, occasionally two weeks, for symptoms to manifest. Treatment with various drugs clears it up in 3-5 days, but it's pretty unpleasant in the meantime, and the accompanying dehydration is dangerous.


                              2. Deisel and True Grounds in Somerville were both closed this evening. Well, actually, Deisel wasn't closed, but it was "BYOC" (bring your own coffee). Sandwiches and bottled drinks only. They said that Bloc 11 had some sort of plan in the works to be able to open tomorrow.

                                True Grounds
                                715 Broadway, Somerville, MA 02144

                                Bloc 11 Cafe
                                11 Bow St, Somerville, MA 02143

                                1. I work in a restaurant and luckily we only had to worry about water when it came to fresh veggies--we used bottled to wash them. (we don't have a soda machine or ice so that wasnt an issue for us, but we did sell out of water by the end of the day!) Obviously washing the dishes was tough at the end of the night, but we boiled pots of water to wash those. The coffee shop next door was serving coffee, which suprised me cause I knew DD and starbucks had closed, so i asked what they were doing to make it okay. They said they had turned the coffee makers up to 190 degrees, and seemed to think that was fine, which it is not becuase it is still not high enough since it needs to be at a boil (212 degrees) for at least a minute for it to be safe for use.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Libbypizza

                                    It's good to hear that your restaurant (and lots of others, like Eastern Standard above) are handling this responsibly and using bottled/boiled water for everything including dishes. But it's also pretty distressing to hear all the reports of places that seem to blithely assume that 190 degree water and fancy filtration systems (!!) will eliminate contamination. Don't the basic food-handling safety certification classes address issues like this? Yikes! (For the posters who asked how long before contamination symptoms show up, the public health folks said it takes up to a week. Double yikes!!)

                                    For the posters in the Boston area who need places to go, it's worth noting that Cambridge has its own water supply which is unaffected by the emergency.

                                  2. Folks, we're going to close this discussion and ask that folks refrain from further discussion of medical and health issues here. We undertand this is a serious health problem that significantly impacts the Boston restaurant industry, so we're going to leave this thread up, but our mission here is to share tips on chow, and broader discussion of the bacteria that may be present and how it may impact people's health is off topic for our site.