In the UK today, a number of waterborne diseases are still quite common. Bacterial diseases, such as salmonella and E. coli, stem from unsanitary conditions and can be spread by the consumption or use of untreated water. Regardless of whether water is being used to process food, as a cooking ingredient or even just to wash equipment such as utensils and containers, the associated risks to customers can be just as prevalent.
It is essential that all water used for food handling or appliance washing should be appropriately treated beforehand, to ensure that no hazards or contaminants are introduced to the food itself. This is particularly important in instances when water is used as an ingredient. Any water used for drinking, manufacturing, processing and cooking must be stored in a sanitary state, in closed containers with taps for hygienic withdrawals. All bottles, containers and water dispensers should be properly emptied, cleaned and thoroughly dried at regular intervals. Water storage tanks must be regularly cleaned – it is advised that a diary or log of these cleaning dates are documented so that you have a comprehensive record to refer back to.
The Food Standards Agency states that non-potable water (water that has not been examined, properly treated or approved by authorities as being safe for consumption) must circulate in a separate, identified system to any potable water and must never come in contact with food. If recycled water is used in processing or as an ingredient, it must not present any risk of contamination.
Unclean ice and steam can also contaminate food. The freezing process itself does not remove any chemical or biological hazards, so it is important that the water used for ice is equally as clean as the water used for drinking. Practical methods can be put in place to ensure that ice is kept free from bacteria and contamination: ice must always be stored and transported in a sanitary manner, food or beverages should not be stored in the same container that previously contained ice, plus non-potable water must never be used to clean equipment or come in contact with food.
Mould may be the single biggest culprit of ice contamination. Mould has been known to thrive in ice machines belonging to supermarkets and restaurants, but can also grow in smaller home freezers. The risk of mold increases dramatically once freezers are turned off for a long time and then suddenly turned on again – this drastic change in temperature has been blamed for the mould growth. Catering businesses that rely on seasonal trade must keep this in mind each year, to ensure that their freezers are properly cleaned and, therefore, meet the appropriate levels of hygiene. All ice makers and machines must be cleaned and sanitised correctly to ensure that any clean water poured into them does not inadvertently become contaminated during the freezing or dispensing process.
Inadvertently consuming contaminated water via food or ice is extremely dangerous for customers and could potentially lead to serious illnesses. Because of this, it is crucial to be vigilant across all food preparation, manufacturing and catering businesses in general. Catering and manufacturing professionals within the food industry must be mindful about the importance of using clean water – they must ensure that water and ice is always fresh, safe and should invariably come from a proper source.