Water Quality: More Than Just A DropThursday, July 15, 2021
Using the National Water Commission's slogan, “Water is life”, the importance of water, specifically the quality of water, used in food handling/processing cannot be overemphasised. It is a known fact that bacteria, viruses and parasites can be present in water, making the commodity a possible source of contamination that must be controlled to prevent a food safety incidence.
In the food industry water plays such a vital role; it is used as an ingredient, a transport mechanism, cooling agent, aid in processing, and for cleaning and sanitation. Depending on the sector and product, the level of water needed will increase or decrease.
The type of water used in the food industry can be broken into two broad categories: Potable water and non-potable water. Potable water, otherwise called drinking water, is water deemed safe to drink. This water can be used in food processing. Non-potable water is the opposite; this is water that is not safe to drink. However, non-potable water can be treated to be potable; this water source includes rivers, wells and rainwater.
The type of water being used is dependent on what it is being used for. Potable water is to be used as an ingredient, for washing of fruits and vegetables, as a cooling agent to remove the heat from produce right from the field. Unfortunately, produce such as melons can absorb wash water through their stems, which can be a problem if the wash water is contaminated. This is why it is important for fruits and vegetables, particularly those classified as ready-to-eat, are cleaned with potable water. The rule of thumb is: Potable water must be used for any food that does not and will not include a heat treatment.
Public health requirements also stipulate that potable water must be used for personal hygiene. Therefore, hand wash stations and showers must have potable water. This reduces the likelihood of a worker falling ill after washing hands or water entering the mouth during a shower.
Non-potable water can be used in the food industry but only under a carefully controlled system. The pipes for this water must be in a different colour from potable water. Instructions must also be present as to how and when this water must be used; workers must be fully trained on the use of this water so as to prevent misuse. For example, using the non-potable water as an ingredient. When non-potable water, such as rainwater or well water, is treated it must be tested afterwards to ensure that it reaches at least minimum water quality standards.
Water quality is very important to prevent food safety risks. Knowing the source of the water being used goes a long way in determining if it is potable water or not. To reduce the risk of food safety incidents water being used must be potable, which is drinking water quality. Hint: Would you drink it? If not, do not use it in foods or food preparation.
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