Water: Lifeline of food business

Our early morning ritual of brushing teeth with the tap running is a usual scenario. We get to see this in almost every household. What we fail to observe is the cumulative loss of good water which supports our living. While we preach to the world safety of water, do we actually practice it? Or do we join the millions and keep the tap open and deny safe water to the other quarter dying of thirst?

While normal untested water might make its way into daily chores, food businesses and food-related activities require water of utmost standard. We all have studied about water quality, its sources and all the related aspects back in our school days.

Let’s revisit those classes and revise our basics of saving water.

Water quality

As mentioned before, food industry is required to have an adequate supply of drinking water (i.e. potable water) available for use in food production to ensure foods are not contaminated. Drinking water is water fit for human consumption (e.g. drinking, cooking and food preparation) and in principle must be free from microorganisms and other contaminants that may endanger public health.

Water source

Drinking water is supplied to the food industry either publicly by local government authorities or privately by the food business itself. However, drinking water can come from a variety including surface water (e.g. streams, rivers, and lakes), groundwater (e.g. natural springs, wells), rainwater and seawater (treated at a desalination plant).

It is the source of water which generally determines its quality – whether treatment is required to ensure it meets drinking standards and is safe to be used in food production (i.e. safe for human consumption).

Good Quality Water Supply is Important - Equinox Labs

Water treatment

Water treatment processes remove pathogens and impurities that may otherwise be harmful to human health or aesthetically unpleasant. Treatment processes vary depending on the source. But typically, an absorbent material is added to the water to bind dirt and form dense particles that settle to the bottom of the storage tank which is then filtered to remove fine particles. Finally, a small amount of disinfectant (e.g. chlorine), at a level safe for human consumption, may be added to kill any remaining microorganisms.

The provision and treatment of private water supplies used by the food industry is the responsibility of the specific food business using the supply. Typically, private water supplies will require treatment and continuous verification following treatment (e.g. laboratory testing) to ensure they are fit for human consumption and can be used in food production.

Water use

There are four broad uses of water in food production, which are Primary production (e.g. farming), Cleaning and sanitation, as an ingredient or component of an ingredient and Processing operations (e.g. heating, refrigeration).

The biggest use of water is in primary crop production (e.g. vegetables) where it is used for irrigation purposes. Livestock farming (e.g. dairy farming) also requires large volumes of water for watering of livestock (i.e. drinking) and general hygiene of the animals and equipment (e.g. cleaning and sanitation of milking equipment).

Food washing-Equinox

Clean seawater (i.e. seawater that does not contain pathogens or other harmful contaminants in quantities capable of affecting food safety) is non-potable, but is permitted for use in processing operations such as washing whole fishery products and shellfish.

The reuse of water through recycling is becoming an increasingly vital component of food processing as a means to conserve water, reduce costs and provide security of water supplies. Under current legislation, recycled water can be used in food processing or as an ingredient but should be of the same standard as drinking water.

In some circumstances non-potable water is used by the food industry (e.g. for fire control, steam production). In these instances the water should be clearly identified as non-drinking water and not come in contact with or mix with the drinking water supply used directly in food production.

Water Forms

Water used for different food businesses might be needed in different forms and temperature. Hence, its imperative to take into notice the purity of water, irrespective of its state.

– Hot water

All sinks and wash basins should have taps. Hot and cold running water under pressure should be provided in food preparation and dish washing areas. Hot water is required throughout the year. Solar water heaters can be used for heating water. Hot water in the dish washing area should be at a temperature of 77 degree Celsius for proper sanitation of crockery and cutlery. The temperature of water should be checked at regular intervals to ensure this. An insufficient supply of hot water increases the work load without increasing output. Hot water pipes should be insulated to conserve heat and cut down on fuel consumption.

– Ice

Ice for any use in kitchen should be prepared from water from an approved source. It should be manufactured, stored, transported and handled in a sanitary manner. Ice used in contact with food should meet bacteriological requirements for potable water. Ice may be contaminated at the factory or during delivery. No license should be given unless water used for manufacture of ice is pure and wholesome. Personal hygiene is very important and workers should be medically fit and in clean uniforms.

Conclusion

The rules governing food safety include requirements for adequate supplies of safe drinking water for use in food production. As such the safety directly affects the safety of food. Therefore, food businesses should follow good-sense practices when considering the source, treatment and intended use of water in food production to ensure the quality and safety of the foods produced.

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