How safe is your food business water supply?

The water that you use in your food business can have a direct effect on your food safety outcomes. Welcome to Week 17 of the Food Safety HACCP Challenge. This week you are challenged to check that the water that you use in your food business is safe. One of the ways to ensure that the water used is safe or potable is to have it tested. With that in mind, check that your water has been verified in the past 12 months.

In most developed countries, sufficient quantities of potable water are delivered to food businesses.  In some countries however, and some regions in developed countries, the potability of municipal water cannot be relied on.

Potable water in your food business

There are many areas where potable water is required to be used within your business. Here are just a few:

  • When water is used as a raw material in a recipe or an incoming ingredient
  • When water is required to wash or clean any ready-to eat food like lettuce, tomato, other fruits and vegetables. Ready-to-eat foods are foods that will not undergo any further processing including cooking.
  • When water is used to clean equipment, utensils, preparation benches, floors etc within you food production area.
  • Potable water must be supplied to any wash hand basins.

A word of warning

There are many environmental campaigns that you can implement within your food business to help reduce waste, and help towards the sustainability of our environment. One of these strategies relates to saving water through the use of recycled water, stormwater or greywater. To make this type of water safe it needs to be effectively treated. Under no circumstances should you use untreated water in any of the situations listed in the section above.

If your food business is planning to implement water saving or re-use measures, please ensure that an adequate risk assessment is completed.  The quality of non-potable water will vary depending on its source and the level of treatment applied. Non-potable water may contain biological hazards such as bacteria, viruses, or chemical and metal residues.  It is therefore important to weigh up the risks and benefits.

What should water be tested for?

There are many things that you can test your water for including microbiological, chemical and physical hazards. Your analytical laboratory can provide guidance and what testing should be performed on your water. As a minimum, you should always request testing for biological hazards such as E.Coli. There should be no E.Coli detected in your sample submitted. Depending on where your food business is located, you may also like to test for Enteroviruses and Faecal indicators. For example Salmonella spp, Shigella spp, enterovirulent Vibrio cholera, Yersinia enterocolitica, Campylobacter jejuni, and protozoa.

Frequency of water testing

The frequency of water testing is dependent on various factors which include what food product you are producing, where your food business is located, the safety and security of the town water supply and the age and size of your building. At a minimum, the cleanliness of the water supply should be verified annually. You may also like to test samples from different parts of your site. Keep in mind that although you are connected to a municipal water supply, water can still become contaminated through the pipe distribution within your food business.

Did you achieve this challenge?

How did you do? Is the water supply you use in your food business safe? Did you find areas where your water quality management plan can be improved? Share your success or thoughts by leaving a comment below.

20 thoughts on “How safe is your food business water supply?”

  1. Pragash Ramadoss

    Good Article. Generally water is the major source of pathogens in food industries. When water system is contaminated with filth in floods and rainy season it can spread all over the plant in a single day. Checking pathogens in water very frequently like once in a week is recommended practice. Also to have any form of control system like UV or micron filters are also recommended if the water from source does not grantee absence of pathogens.

  2. Hi Amanda

    We use water as our one and only ingredient “actually our main ingredient”. We manufacturing a high quality premium Ice. can you please give me guidance on what to test for in raw and final.

    1. Dear Rico

      As you say you are a ice manufacturer make sure the water you use is not chlorinated because it causes severe cases of vomiting and bad head aches when you mix it with liquor, filtered ground based water would be ideal if i may suggest of course subject to testing frequently.

  3. Even in major cities in Australia (Brisbane) water can cause an issue with your processes. We have a very tight specification for total plate count for countries we export to and our product has water as an ingredient. A few months ago we had to reject several batches of product due to high counts. As part of the investigation it was determined our water supply was contributing to the high counts due to our site being the “end of a line”. We have just come off of two months of weekly testing and resumed our monthly regime.

    1. Thanks Carol. A lot of people think that if they pull water off the mains supply it will be ok. There definitely needs to be consideration into possible contamination points from source to outlet. This includes the pipes used to transport that water, any breakage points, ground contamination and flood waters. Thinking back to the Brisbane floods, I wonder how many businesses thought about the effect of flood waters on their actual water pipe maintenance?

  4. During a recent BRC Audit, the auditor thought we were ‘over the top’ in identifying UV treatment to destroy Cryptosporidium oocysts in town mains water used as an ingredient as a CCP in our Hazard Analysis. At the time that the HACCP study was being drafted, one of the team members living in the north-east of England was being advised to boil the tap water for guess what … Cryptosporidium!



    1. You know your process and your business better than anyone else does Bob. Never make changes just because the auditor thinks “it is a good idea” or they think what you are doing is”over-the-top”. There are plenty of documented cases of Crypto in water (in both mains supply and country water supply) so I would expect this to have been identified during your hazard analysis.

  5. Since water you use is in contact with your final product, it should be the quality of drinking water. Demands for drinking water and analysis needed must be listed in Ukraine local legislation.

  6. Muhammed Arshid

    Hi, we are using municipal (Dubai municipality) water supply for the washing of vegetable and fruits, bi annually testing for both chemical and microbiological parameters. Hope this will be enough to understand that the water we are using is safe

  7. In our plant in South Africa (Gauteng) meat factory we do get the monthly results from our water supplier and we also take samples in the whole plant we have points in the map were we sample weekly and do micro tests and once a year we sample for Chemical tests to be done. I hope this enough if there is some way we can improve please advice.

    Thanks. Ruth

    1. Thanks for your comment Ruth. From what you have written it looks like you have a comprehensive program in place. The only thing that I would suggest is maybe mixing up location of your sample points. This should then give you more cover.

  8. Sander Koning Labadie

    In our plant in the Netherlands, we get quarterly labreports from both plants our water supplier uses. In general dutch tap water is safe.

  9. Hello Amanda!
    Thank you for the article. I have a question: we are a sugar beet factory, we use water for the whitening of sugar. For this purpose we use condensate after juice evaporation. What should water be tested for in our case?
    Best regards,
    Anna, Ukraine

    1. Condensate is distilled water so it should be pure but check for the presence of nitrogen compounds used in steam corrosion control. Also, after the condensate is cooled & stored, an occasional plate count or ATP test will confirm the purity.

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