Water — An Essential Ingredient for Food Safety

Every food processing facility that I have been in uses water to some extent. It may be incorporated into their product, used during processing, or used for cleaning and sanitation or for employee hygiene, what is important however is that regardless of how the water is used it is an essential part of their process or product.

As seen in the recent West Virginia incident, where fresh water supplies were contaminated by a chemical that leaked from improperly contained storage tanks, water is essential to daily life. The disruption can be extensive when normal supply routes are suspended.  Many of us have become so accustomed to turning on the tap and receiving an almost unlimited supply of fresh potable water that we take it for granted that the supply will always be there –– until it isn’t.

In light of all this, it’s important for food processors to monitor and protect their incoming water supplies from accidental contamination.  We recommend that all food processors obtain an annual water analysis. Even if the supply of water is safe, hard water and other minerals can change and cause problems not only with your product and process but also interfere with the functionality and effectiveness of cleaners and sanitizers.  For breweries, where water makes up a large part of the product, we recommend simply drawing a glass of water every day, then smelling and tasting it.  Off odors, flavors or colors could be an indicator that there is a problem that needs to be investigated.

Food processors also need to be mindful of the potential impact of their facility on other water users. For example, processors need to review their compliance with local wastewater regulations, and whether they are they overusing or wasting water due to excessive rinses or leaking fixtures. Finally, all food producers use chemicals in their facilities to some extent. When was the last time chemical storage and handling facilities were checked to make sure that the potential for spills was limited? Appropriate containment should be in place to prevent leaks and spills from contaminating rivers and lakes.

Water is a vital resource essential to all of us and stewardship of this resource belongs to us all.

Elis Owens, Ph.D., Director, Technical Services, Birko, can be reached at [email protected], 303-289-1090.