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Food Industry Water Guidelines: Risks, Use & Regulations

Die-Pat advice and guidance on the use of water and industry regulation regarding water within the food industry.

Water in the Food Industry

Water is possibly the most important factor in the food processing industry. It is needed practically everywhere. Other than being used for a cooking ingredient, water is also used for diluting cleaning detergents, sanitizers, and disinfectants as well as rinsing off the cleaning chemicals. Potable water is also necessary for the food and catering industries. Both of these industries must have toilets and hand washing basins for its work force, which also must have adequate water. To acquire the water and maintain its level of quality, a diligent management system must be in place.

Having the ability to directly transmit diseases and cause outbreaks, water is one of many routes that food contaminants can do harm. Pathogenic micro-organisms, toxic chemicals and foreign bodies all can contaminate the water, becoming highly risky for the consumer. Poorly maintained systems, water remaining in the storage tanks too long, and/or unclean systems can cause these things. Other contaminants include heavy metals, pesticides, nitrates, and industrial pollutants. These are all classified as chemical contaminants.


Water as an Ingredient

Water is commonly used as an ingredient within food and drinks, and also with washing food. This comes from mains water supplies, which can vary the taste, odor and the presence of microbes in the water. It is not allowed to use raw water as an ingredient because this water can be contaminated with pathogens caused by human or animal faecal matter, runoff contaminated with the same, and/or chemicals, natural and anthropogenic.

Therefore, it is vital to ensure the measures used to control the safety of the water. Proper water quality is necessary for preparing food, using water as an ingredient as well as consuming water. This is also referred to as potable water; water that will not affect a person by itself or when used with food. All water should meet local standards as well as WHO Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality.


Water to Food Risks

Examples of possible risks include:

  • Pathogens (eg. Bacillus cereus, Staphylococcus aureus)
  • Growth of pathogens (bacteria in water coming into contact with food, which then causes it to grow)
  • Uptake and concentration of chemicals and pathogens (eg. food that can carry more chemicals and pathogens in naturally higher levels)


Water Supply and Regulations

Water Pressure determines the flow of water from the outlet and must be high enough to meet the standards. Pressure is determined by how high the service reservoir or water tower is. Even the height of the property can affect the water pressure.

Low water pressure can be caused by the number of people using water, water mains that are too small, inadequate pumping facilities, and possible leaks, equipment failures, and/or blocked service pipes. Low water pressure can slow down the flow to a trickle and cause some heating appliances not to work. The companies are responsible for low water pressure.

High water pressure can be caused by trapped air in the water pipes. This can be fixed by running the taps for a few minutes. Another cause of high water pressure includes reconfiguring the water supply network and/or changing the supply route which can be fixed in the same way as air in the pipes.

Speaking with the water company first should be done when pertaining to improper water pressure. If handled incorrectly, the pressure could result in possible property damage or damage to the system.

Legal Documents and Regulations for England and Wales include:

  • The Water Industry Act 1991 (the Act)
  • The Water Act 2003
  • The Drinking Water (Undertakings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2000 (SI 2000/1297) as amended by the Water Supply (Miscellaneous Amendments) Page 2 © 2014 Water in the Food Industry The Society of Food Hygiene and Technology Food Processing (England and Wales) Regulations 2010
  • The General Food Regulations 2004 (SI 2004 / 3279 as amended) and Council Regulation 178/2002
  • Council Directive 98/34/EC The Technical Standards and Regulations Directive
  • Security and Emergency Measures (Water and Sewerage Undertakers) Direction 1998
  • The Security and Emergency Measures (insert name of company) (Licensed Water Suppliers) Direction (insert year)
  • The Security and Emergency Measures (Water Undertakers) Direction 2006
  • The BRC Global Standard for Food Safety Issue 5


Water Safety Guidelines

Every food processing site should practice these safety guidelines when it comes to their water supply and its quality.

Potable water must either be drawn from the public mains supply network that is operated by a water company or from a private supply. An example of this would be a borehole.

The adequate water supply should be considered when it comes to food processing, cleaning, and other procedures according to the construction and design of buildings that are being rebuilt, altered, and/or refurbished.

If water is being drawn from a private supply, special disinfecting treatments may be required. Special disinfecting treatments can include filtration, ultra-violet lights, and/or chlorination. Identifying which treatment is more effective should be decided by consulting a water treatment specialist.

All water distribution systems and plumbing components must be able to meet the demands of peak times. An example of these times would be during the cleaning.

Water storage tanks must be kept secure and covered in order to prevent possible contamination. The tanks should and are made of an inert material to avoid corrosion and the chemical contamination of the water.

Particularly in larger sites, water distribution systems can be and often are very complex. It is necessary to keep an accurate plan of the system, which should include both potable and non-potable water. These plans should be updated with any and all alterations that are made, and they must be submitted with applications for approval.

Water tanks must be kept in good condition. This includes regular cleaning to prevent contamination via build-up of organic or mineral material that could allow microbial growth. Drain and clean the entire system at least once a year but also when there are contamination incidents.

Regular inspections of the water distribution system are necessary. Frequently doing so will increase the chances of finding possible damage, corrosion, leaks and more that could create further issues. Reporting these inspections and recording the dates and results can aid in determining the possible cause and course of action to take after finding flaws in the system.

Disinfecting the system can be done by a filtration system or an ultra-violet light system. Both of these require their own methods of maintenance. The filters and lights must be clean and/or changed regularly and the system must be checked to ensure proper function.

Hard water is a risk that causes the building up of scale. Using water softeners can prevent this and reduce the use of detergents. If and when water softeners are being used, it is essential to ensure they are maintained. On the resin bed, micro-organisms can grow and become an additional source of contamination.

Training in good water management must be given to operatives and any contract cleaners. This training includes using potable water, including ice and stream, only using it from the correct outlets, and properly reporting any and all problems accordingly, and additional quality personnel must also be trained when testing water samples. They must also be trained to supervise, issue reminders, keep accurate reports, and identify potable and non-potable water to prevent the misuse of non-potable water and prevent non-potable water entering the distribution system.

Ice that should and/or will come into contact with food or could contaminate food must be made with potable water that is handled and stored in good conditions to prevent contamination.

Steam is not to contain any substance that is a health hazard, food contaminant, and contains any harmful contaminants. Steam must also be generated from potable water only when coming into direct contact with food.

Only a person who knows the layout of the water distribution system and has sufficient authority to take or instruct necessary, corrective action may be nominated to ensure the responsibility of applying and verifying the company’s water supply procedures.

Inspections and maintenance of the water distribution system, reporting of problems, and the results of microbiological testing must be checked regularly to ensure the proper use and supply of potable water.

The regular checks should be sufficient once a month, depending on the likelihood of a possible problem and should be done by experienced staff. This staff should know the procedures and how to perform the water tests and read the results. Additional checks may be needed depending on new operatives or procedures in place.

Records must be kept up to date, accurate, and account regular checks, tests result, and any corrective action taken. Suitable records can be stored in a notebook or on a computer.

The mains is monitored by the water supplier. It is required of them to monitor the quality of the water that enters the premises. Copies of their results should be on file and can be requested.

Mains water supply can become contaminated if the main water is stored in tanks before use. It can also become contaminated if the water distribution system is complex and/or the system is old. Testing from the water outlets where hot or cold water will come into contact with food, food processing equipment, or foot handlers will determine if the water is potable. If not, it means that microbiological contamination has occurred on site.


Types of Water Categories

WRAS sorts the wholesomeness of water according to five different fluid categories. Each fluid category requires different taps and backflow prevention methods. Backflow is defined as the movement of water up a stream, or in the opposite direction of the normal way that water flows. For example, water that overflows from a sewer and ends up in taps, toilets, sinks, or bathtubs would be classed as backflow – and thats exactly what WRAS aims to prevent.

WRAS Categories:

  • Category 1: Wholesome water that is dispensed by your local water undertaker (for example, Yorkshire Water). This is water that you can safely drink.
  • Category 2: Water that is classed as slightly “impaired” for aesthetic reasons, such as temperature changes, dirt, or organisms, which can have an effect on the appearance and taste of the water.
  • Category 3: Water that may pose a small health risk due to a presence of mildly toxic substances, such as copper sulphate or sodium hypochlorite. This water is not safe to drink, and a Type DA valve, also known as a vacuum breaker, must be used to keep it from getting into the mains water supply.
  • Category 4: Water that may pose a significant health risk because it contains toxic substances such as organisms or parasites, as well as pesticides or carcinogens. It is not safe to drink and a special valve, called an RPZ valve, is required to prevent it from entering the mains water supply.
  • Category 5: This is water that poses an extreme health hazard because it contains pathogens and other toxic items, such as animal and human waste products. To prevent Category 5 water from entering the mains supply, you must use an A-gap valve as well as a weir overflow device.

Every part of a tap must be inspected for quality and durability, with backflow prevention devices assessed along similar lines. If the product can’t prevent backflow in the appropriate category, it will not be approved, and the manufacturer must redesign the product and re-submit it for approval. WRAS-approved taps, are then included in a list of recommended products on the WRAS website. When you choose these products (which include the WRAS logo), you’re choosing taps that are safe, effective, and able to handle the high-traffic traffic environment of commercial cooking establishments.


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