Does faster to boil mean faster to safely use?

Boil water at high elevation

Did you know that the higher you go, the faster water boils? When people hear that for the first time, they can mistakenly jump to assuming the faster they’ll have safe water to use and consume. However, that is not correct.

First, let’s understand why water boils faster at higher elevations. At sea level, water will boil at 100C. As we go higher above sea level, there is less atmospheric pressure and therefore less pressure on water molecules wanting to break apart as they are heating up. The less pressure, or resistance, on hot water molecules, the faster they can break apart into vapour and form water bubbles, or what we know as boiling water.

Because the boiling point is reached faster, then I should be finished my roiling boil step (see earlier blog) that much faster and I, therefore, get safe water to use and consume that much faster, right? Wrong. Why?

With less pressure or resistance being applied to hot water molecules at high altitude, you don’t need as much heat to break those water molecules apart into water vapour, essential for boiling water. If water boils at lower temperatures the higher you go above sea level, then the longer you need to kill, or ‘cook off’, all the protozoa, bacteria and viruses that may be present in the water. It’s the same logic as cooking food at lower temperatures versus higher temperatures. The low and slow food movement speaks to that. The lower the temperature, the longer you need to cook your food (and generally, the more tender it becomes) before it can be safely consumed.

So, if you live at high altitude, you should boil your water for longer than the recommended 1 minute during a boil water advisory.

Take care. Be prepared.

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