Bottled Water Safety Improves but – Industry Needs to do More

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland released the results of a survey of the microbiological safety and quality of bottled water in Ireland. It shows a significant improvement in the microbiological quality of bottled water since the last survey was conducted in 2007. When samples were tested against all four of the microbiological standards in the legislation, 2% were found to be unsatisfactory compared to 7% of similar samples in the 2007 survey. However, there is still room for improvement because 4 of the 748 samples taken were deemed unsafe and were recalled from the market.

The survey involved analysing 748 water samples taken from a range of retail outlets and bottled water manufacturers throughout the country between September and December 2010. In all cases where non-compliances were detected, manufacturers were required to take immediate corrective actions and in the case of the 4 samples that were considered unsafe for human consumption the manufacturers recalled the affected batches from the market and the FSAI issued alert notices on its website.

The FSAI today stated that the improvement in the safety and quality of bottled water on sale in Ireland reflects the efforts of the FSAI, the HSE’s Environmental Health Service (EHS) and the industry following the poor results of the 2007 survey. The FSAI and EHS have worked with the bottled water industry in Ireland to develop guidance on safe and hygienic production of bottled water resulting in an updated national hygiene standard available through the National Standards Authority of Ireland. In addition, the EHS has been very active with bottled water manufacturing companies to verify that improvements to hygiene standards have been made.

Nevertheless, the bottled water industry must continue to improve the microbiological safety and quality of its products. Commenting on these findings Dr. Wayne Anderson, Director of Food Science and Standards, FSAI states that, “These results highlight the need for Irish bottled water manufacturers to ensure that products meet the highest standards of safety and hygiene on a consistent basis. Bottled water receives no further treatment by the consumer before consumption so its safety and quality are of paramount importance. The FSAI welcomes the significant improvements in the microbiological safety and quality of bottled water but there is still work to be done to ensure that no harmful bacteria make it into water and we would urge manufacturers to review their food safety management systems.”

The survey also showed the need to improve the labelling of bottled water. Some 55% of water samples labelled as natural mineral water or spring water were non compliant with respect to labelling legislation. Under the legislation, certain bottled water requires the name of the spring and the place where the spring is exploited to be on the label when marketing such products as natural mineral or spring water. Of the 323 water samples labelled as natural mineral water (183) or spring water (140) only 45% carried both of these statements. “This is clearly an area for improvement that the industry must concentrate on. Labelling must be compliant with all requirements in the legislation so that consumers are informed correctly about the nature of the product they are consuming” said Dr. Anderson.

Main findings included:

Nineteen of 748 bottled water samples collected (2.5%) were unsatisfactory for one or more microbiological standard(s) in the legislation.
Four samples were found to contain E.coli and/or Enterococci which are groups of bacteria that are considered the best indicator of the safety of bottled water. The affected batches were removed from the market.
A further four samples were found to contain P.aeruginosa which while not a health risk to the general population can be considered a risk for severely immunocompromised people in hospital. Intensive care hospitals were informed of the results and the need to ensure the affected batches were not in use.
Eleven samples tested positive for coliforms which indicate possible poor hygiene during the bottling process or poor quality of the source water.
Three unsatisfactory samples (two positive for E.coli and one for P.aeruginosa) were part of batches of bottled water distributed outside of Ireland. The FSAI in this instance, notified the European Commission rapid alert system to notify authorities in other countries of the need for action.

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