Drinking or using contaminated water can result in severe illness or death. That is why it is important to ensure that water used in food establishments safe, clean and free from bacteria, parasite residues, chemicals, and heavy metals. Although government agencies are responsible for testing water regularly, accidents can happen which can cause contamination. Food business operators must take the responsibility to ensure that foods processed/ prepared in their premises are safe to consume. Regular (at least every six months) water testing of drinking water and water used in food processing will help to maintain the quality of the water.
Microbial water testing
Water can get contaminated by sewage and animal fecal matter at the source as well as after treatment of the supplied water. In such a case e-coli will be present in the water when it is tested in a testing laboratory. However, to ensure that treatment is working adequately, water must be tested for indicators like turbidity, particle numbers and disinfectant residues in an approved testing lab. Water testing for protozoa is also required which depends on the food segment being processed. Water testing to monitor the microbiological status of the water supply should include coliform bacteria, fecal coliforms, and total plate counts. Unless otherwise indicated by processing conditions, microbiological water testing must be undertaken on a quarterly basis.
Chemical water testing
The presence of chemical contaminants in water are determined by testing for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) lead copper, manganese magnesium, iron, chromium, nitrates, arsenic, mercury, cadmium, zinc, barium, iodine and more. Water is also tested for various pesticide residues especially if the water supply comes from groundwater source located either in an industrialized urban area or in an agricultural setting. Testing should be conducted in accordance with approved methods and only in recognized water testing laboratories. Chemical testing must also be undertaken for water storage tanks, especially when they have been recently repaired or treated and before water is placed in them.
Maintain quality through water testing
While routine testing of supplied water is necessary food processors need to carry out specific water testing too. Since water is used for various purposes in a food facility it is important to determine possible routes of contamination. For easy identification, food processors will need to map out all of the possible points of contact that can lead to possible process contamination or contaminated water entering food products. This could happen when pipes carrying contaminated material develop leaks that result in the transfer of contamination. Water used in processing like rinsing must be of potable standards, which can be achieved by using chlorine or sterilization. Water used for rinsing must be stored in a way that prevents microbial growth. Food business operators must ensure that standards for water are maintained when it is used for different stages of food production. Having adequate water testing, monitoring and verification systems in place will ensure that the quality of the water used is as per standards at all times.