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HealthInfo West Coast-Te Tai Poutini

Keeping yourself safe during an emergency

Please take the following advice to avoid getting sick with stomach bugs and other illnesses. If you do become sick, try to limit contact with other people, do not go to work and do not prepare food for anyone.

Drinking water

Assume that all tap water (including filtered water) is unsafe and contaminated until advised by your local Council that it is safe. All tap water should be boiled or treated before drinking, brushing teeth or washing/preparing food. Adding household bleach (one teaspoon of bleach per 10 litres of water) and leaving for 30 minutes before drinking will effectively treat water.

Even though the water may look clear, it should be treated as contaminated and unsafe to drink due to damaged underground water and sewage pipes.

Give family members a glass of boiled water to use when brushing their teeth.


Minimise food and water spoilage: During an emergency normal household appliances such as fridges and ovens may break down or lack power, our food could spoil faster and our water supply could become contaminated. To avoid this happening follow the steps below:

  • eat perishable foods, for example bread and meat first, as they spoil faster than non-perishable food.
  • eat canned foods last.
  • minimise food spoilage by opening the fridge or freezer only when you need to take food out.
  • do not eat vegetables or fruits that have been lying in flood water.
  • cover all food with plastic wrap or store in waterproof containers.
  • leave bottles, drink cans and water containers in the fridge (if it's working) to keep things cold.
  • throw out rotting or tainted food before it spoils other food.

Focus on hygiene: Maintaining hygiene around food preparation and cooking requires more thought than normal.

  • always wash and dry your hands before preparing food – if water is in short supply keep some in a bowl with disinfectant.
  • ensure all utensils are clean before use.
  • cook food thoroughly.
  • cover all food with plastic wrap or store in waterproof containers.
  • keep a supply of fly spray.
  • rubbish containing food scraps must be protected from flies and rats by wrapping or putting in a sealed container.

Use safe cooking and washing water: The following household facilities can be used to cook, wash dishes, and wash your hands:

  • hot water cylinder.
  • toilet cistern – as long as no chemical toilet cleaner is present.
  • bottled water.
  • spa/swimming pool – can use to wash yourself and your family.

Boil or purify water before using it in food preparation, and to avoid cross-contamination of food. Once boiled, cover and store in a clean container and place in the fridge (if it's working) or in some other cool place. Re-boil the water if it is not used within 24 hours.

If you do not have power to boil water then purifying tablets or bleach can be added to ensure its safety. Add five drops of household bleach per litre of water and leave for 30 minutes.

Ensure food is safe: Knowing what is safe to eat during the clean-up phase after an emergency can become a guessing game. Understand what may or may not be safe to eat.

  • Any food that retains ice crystals and where the packaging has not been damaged or opened can be safely refrozen.
  • Foods that have been defrosted can still be used if they have just recently defrosted and can be kept cold (the fridge is working again).
  • Defrosted food cannot be refrozen.
  • Inspect the food – does it smell or appear different? (Has the colour changed and does it have a slimy texture?) If so it is probably unsafe to eat.
  • Do not use any tinned food that has been damaged (for example if the can has split seams or has been punctured).

Dust and surface water

Avoid contact with sewage. Assume river, sea water and any other surface water is contaminated with sewage. Stay away from beaches and rivers and do not swim, fish or gather shellfish in the sea, rivers or any areas of standing water until notified. If you have sewage contamination within your home you should move to alternative accommodation.

If you are concerned about the level of dust and other pollutants in the air, wear an appropriate dust mask to protect your lungs. Masks are available from hardware stores and pharmacies.


Where water is available use as little water as possible to flush toilets.

Where water is not available, temporary toilets may be made with a bin lined with two plastic bags. Cover the bin between uses. Bury the contents in your garden or wrap it well in paper or plastic and put it in your red bin for collection. Wash your hands immediately after dealing with any human waste.

Hand washing

Hand washing stops diseases spreading. Frequent hand washing will help keep you well. Wherever possible wash your hands with warm water. Use soap and rub your hands together well for at least 20 seconds.

ALWAYS wash your hands after:

Cold water is fine as long as soap is used and hands are thoroughly dried. If you don't have access to water, alcohol gel is a good alternative. Your hands do not need to be dried if alcohol gel is used. Hand sanitiser is available from official water tanker sites.


If you have a dishwasher use a full hot wash (not economy wash) with detergent. Allow your dishes to dry fully before using them again.

Caring for others

See also:

Hand hygiene

Page reference: 28667

Review key: HIEMG-274747