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Bottled water 'safer' - but industry still needs improvement

Microbiological tests of bottled water shows that standards have improved in the past number of years – however, two per cent of samples are still classed as “unsafe”.

Image: Steven Depolo via Creative Commons/Flickr

THE SAFETY AND quality of bottled water in Ireland has significantly improved in the past number of years – however a small proportion of bottled water is still deemed unsafe, according a new Food Safety Authority of Ireland survey.

The survey showed that two per cent of samples failed microbiological standards last year, in comparison to 7 per cent in 2007. However, researchers warn the industry is still in need of improvement as four of the 748 samples taken were marked as unsafe for human consumption due to the presence of E.coli and/or Enterococci, and subsequently removed from the market.

The FSAI said that in all cases where non-compliance was noted manufacturers were required to take immediate corrective actions, and in the cases where safety was breached the manufacturers recalled the affected batches from the market and the FSAI issued alert notices on its website.

“Bottled water receives no further treatment by the consumer before consumption so its safety and quality are of paramount importance,” said Dr Wayne Anderson, Director of Food Science and Standards, FSAI. “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 samples were taken from a range of retail outlets and bottled water manufacturers throughout the country between September and December 2010.

The main findings included:

  • Nineteen of 748 bottled water samples collected were unsatisfactory on at least one microbiological safety standard
  • Four samples were found to contain E.coli and/or Enterococci
  • Four (separate) 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
  • 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 informed hospitals regarding the water which contained P.aeruginosa, and also notified the European Commission rapid alert system in relation the batches that had been distributed to other countries.

Labelling

The survey also showed that improvement was required in relation to labelling standards, as 55 per cent of samples labelled as natural mineral water or spring water were not compliant with existing legislation.

Certain bottled water requires the name of the spring, as well as the location at which the spring is exploited, to be printed on the label – but just 45 per cent of the 323 water samples labelled as natural mineral water carried both of these statements.

Anderson commenting that labelling was clearly an area for improvement, saying: “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”.

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