Assuring Water Quality and Safety in Food Processing

By Richard F. Stier

Most people take water for granted. In the United States, Japan and in Western Europe, all that an
individual needs to do is turn on the tap at any time in the day or night to get clean, potable water.
Water is used for drinking, cooking, washing and myriad other tasks.

After listening to the rhetoric at a 2002 environmental conference in South Africa, it is apparent
that “the right to clean water” should be included in the list of unalienable rights for everyone in
the world. The reality is, however, that those who have abundant supplies of good, clean water
should consider themselves blessed. Anyone who has traveled overseas where the
recommendations include “Drink only bottled water” or “Use the local tap water for rinsing your
toothbrush only,” know how fortunate they are to have good water. There are still places in the
world where water must be drawn from public wells and carried home, and others where the people
are not even that fortunate.

Of course, even in places where water quality is considered good, problems crop up. The following
excerpt from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality
Weekly describes one such problem: In March and April 1993, an outbreak of cryptosporidiosis
in Milwaukee resulted in diarrheal illness in an estimated 403,000 persons. Following that
outbreak, testing for Cryptosporidium in persons with diarrhea increased substantially in some
areas of Wisconsin; by Aug. 1, 1993, three of six clinical laboratories in Dane County were testing
routinely for Cryptosporidium as part of ova and parasite examinations. In late August 1993, the
Madison Department of Public Health and the Dane County Public Health Division identified two
clusters of persons with laboratory-confirmed Cryptosporidium infection in Dane County
(approximately 80 miles west of Milwaukee).[1]

Water is, therefore, a major issue even in countries where the water quality is acknowledged to be
good. For example, during the later years of the Clinton Administration, they proposed lowering
the standards for certain elements. The Bush Administration held up implementation to allow for
additional study.

So, the bottom line is that water is essential for life, health and even doing business, but it can’t be
taken for granted. Food processors need large quantities of good quality water for a range of
operations, including blending or mixing, cleaning, ice making, steam production and product
transport. It is absolutely essential that food processors take steps to assure that the water and water
systems in their plants are safe, wholesome and under their control.

Water as a Prerequisite for HACCP

The Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulations for both the juice and
seafood industries include eight areas where processors must have documented programs to assure
good sanitation.[2,3] One of these emphasizes the safety of water and ice used in food processing.

Each of these kind of systems need to be included on the company’s preventive maintenance program. and food packaging materials or for employee sanitary facilities.”[4] Most processors draw water from city water supplies or wells. two outbreaks of botulism that were traced to canned salmon processors underscored the need for both good sanitation and good water quality in these operations. Ideally. Processors need to assure that they establish systems that allow them to heat sufficient quantities of water for all their needs. There are many operations around the world that draw from rivers or other sources and must treat water on site to assure its sanitary quality. Records that filters or ultraviolet sources are changed regularly will ensure that the system will function as designed. The water must also be delivered to different areas within the plant at with sufficient pressure to do the job that needs to be done. In the U. Operations that have problems with poor water pressure may be forced to install hold tanks with pumps to assure both adequate supply and pressure. The assumption is that these are safe sources but this needs to be verified.The following has been drawn from the U. therefore. that is. For example. the waters were treated to achieve a 5-log reduction of spores of Clostridium botulinum in an effort to reduce the potential hazard from water. for the cleaning of equipment. They may be passing water through a reverse osmosis (RO) system to ensure that the water is cleaner or of better chemical quality when used as an ingredient.S. these systems should allow them to control temperature to within the necessary parameters. In the early 1980s. shall be provided in all areas where required for the processing of food. Any water that contacts food or food-contact surfaces shall be safe and of adequate sanitary quality. and under pressure as needed. The SSOP shall address: (1) Safety of the water that comes into contact with food or food contact surfaces or that is used in the manufacture of ice…. Treatment plants must. it will keep water quality high and/or reduce the microbial load in that water. The Good Manufacturing Practices found in 21 CFR Part 110 also contains similar wording. If an operation is . during. and there are those who pass water through ultraviolet (UV) light systems. cleaners work best within set temperature ranges. and after processing. Most food processors use hot water for cleaning and other operations. For example.[5] There are also many operations that have additional treatment systems. Running water at a suitable temperature. Several operations installed reservoirs for chlorinating can cooling water. utensils. salmon canneries in remote locations in Alaska are such operations. Each processor shall have and implement a sanitation standard operating procedure (SSOP) that addresses sanitation conditions and practices before. the water pressure must be high enough to properly wash the product or unit operation. “What can be done to assure that water quality is good?” The regulations state that “the water supply shall be sufficient for the operations intended and shall be derived from an adequate source. be an integral part of these facilities.S. The question is. Other might chlorinate or ozonate their process waters. Using information developed by the National Food Processors Association. if a line contains a washer or washing step. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) HACCP regulation for the juice industry found in 21 CFR Part 123: (a) Sanitation controls.

Understanding water and wastewater flow is absolutely essential. over equipment and use them to fill blending or mix tanks. Water sources and tanks must be separated.connections. Water remaining in these dead areas can create potential health and quality problems. For example. Processors need to understand how fresh water comes into the factory. Operators must check to see that these are on lines as they can “disappear. Perhaps the greatest potential concern for contamination is cross-connections. therefore. Line workers often drag hoses across the floor. but is not as common in older facilities. processors should conduct an audit of their water and plumbing systems. perhaps. Water lines remain clean because they are constantly flushed. . Back-flow devices are designed to prevent dirty or contaminated water from flowing towards a clean source. there are many states where it is mandatory that a food processor contract with an outside firm to validate that the back-flow devices on their water mains are functioning as designed. Their report will also serve as an auditable record to ensure that the work is being done. its source and.S. these operations tend not to make the necessary changes to their plumbing blueprints. There are plants where the lines are under ground and. Such an audit will also help processors determine whether there are any “dead spots” or deadends in the lines. these plants tell the auditors that they are “checked annually. Indeed. inaccessible. As noted. U. most important. Wastewater and soil end up in the mix.involved with the production of meat or meat products. Processors need to verify that plumbing diagrams are both accurate and current. Ideally.” Air gaps are also basic good sanitary design.” In point of fact. Yet. The plumbing diagrams alluded to earlier should include all water systems and the locations of the back-flow devices in the system. Processors should also examine all water lines and water handling systems to be sure that there is no potential for contamination within the operation. The diagrams should show no cross. They allow water to flow in one direction only. These companies conduct pressure tests on the devices and make any adjustments that are needed. a processor who relies on clean water for blending might experience off-flavor problems if there is a dead spot upstream of the blend tanks. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations mandate that there be sanitizing stations where the water is held at 82F or above to assure that utensils may be properly sanitized. The plant engineers and/or maintenance people should conduct an internal audit to verify that plumbing diagrams are accurate and up to date. Unused lines off a main or a large reservoir below the floor will not be flushed properly. back-flow prevention has become a hot button in third-party audits. There should also be an easily accessible back-flow device on all water mains coming into the plant. The first step for a processor is to be sure that there are complete and updated plumbing diagrams. that there are no cross-connections with sewage or waste water lines. Experience shows that as plants expand or are modified. Do you have back-flow prevention devices on water lines? Are there air gaps between spigots or hoses and water sources? Are hoses handled properly so that their use in the process will not contaminate product. This is something that most new plants would have. equipment or ingredients? Operators need to teach plant staff how to handle and store hoses. these devices should be included in a plant’s preventive maintenance program.

These results are those obtained at the water treatment facilities. There is a sense that plant workers and their managers believe that frozen water cannot be a source of contamination. whether from old pipes or a natural source. processors are now treating water used for ice making with ozone. This is especially true in cities where pipelines are old. If water from multiple . Microbiologist Cliff Coles of California Microbiological Consulting has found a number of operators to have filthy icemakers.How ice is manufactured.”[6] Processors with ice making capacity should sanitize their units on a weekly basis. This helps assure that the ice is of good microbiological quality and can even help control the microbial load on certain products. is quite easy to detect. especially in the seafood industry. Records of filter maintenance and icemaker cleaning and sanitizing should be maintained in the plant to document that the work has been done. All one needs do is look for iron stains wherever there are leaks or drips. In many operations. it is quite easy to pick up that metal from the lines. The icemakers themselves also need to be cleaned and sanitized on a regular schedule. Workers often “wade into” ice bins with shovels to fill bins with ice for production use. To quote Coles. however. Having city water records does not preclude the processor from testing water from their own operations. Along these lines. water for chilling foods or blending is produced in large icemakers that deposit the ice in bins. Operators should collect water samples from the farthest faucet from the line in the facility and preferably from the cold side. They should also establish a regular maintenance program for the water filters. This is not a good practice since that ice may be used to chill foods. High iron water. most still have the original cartridge filter in place that was there 20 years ago. “I have only seen a handful of places that have a sanitation schedule for the ice machines. processors should always request that the city provide them with water test results. To further assure the quality of ice used in production. In fact. The water quality as it leaves a treatment plant and its condition when it gets to your plant may vary. Water Quality Analysis All food processors should test water in the plant from different outlets at least once each year—and preferably more often. A sticker or tag should be placed on the filter that can be easily seen that indicates when the filter was serviced and when it is due to be serviced again. This should be done even if water is obtained from a city water system. If the water pipes are iron. stored and used is another issue that should be part of a processor’s water management program.

only time will tell. If water samples are being collected for microbiological testing and the water is chlorinated. be sure that the follow your procedures. Effects on Process Operations Understanding water chemistry can benefit the processor in many ways. iron and nitrates. you may want to look for pathogens or parasites. If third parties are to be used for sampling and/or testing. Water samples for complete chemical analyses should collected at least once a year and submitted to a recognized water testing laboratory. city or wherever). emulsifiers and all polar molecules. how often to sample and where to sample. mainly calcium and magnesium salts. Microbial analyses should include total counts and coliforms. Testing the microbiological quality of the water should be done more frequently. The specific composition is expressed in parts per million (ppm) of the dissolved hardness-causing minerals. be sure that the sampling program includes a step to neutralize any residual chlorine. gases. sugars. organic matter. Be sure to establish documented programs for water sampling. The amount and type of mineral salts present in water is very important to the baker. The degree of hardness is generally expressed as hard. pesticides. but no effort to assure safety should be criticized. sources is being used (wells. Knowing the chemistry of the water coming into the plant will help in other areas. (Nasco provides Whirl-Pak bags that include a thiosulfate tablet that will meet this need. Table 1 shows the EPA National Drinking Water Regulations for Microorganisms. . Chemical tests should include pH. Don’t leave a large deadleg. Water acts as a solvent for salt.) These bags are also safe to use in any kind of processing environment. It is also a good idea to allow the sample port to “run” for a short period to flush the port. be sure that samples from each source are tested. and microbial contaminants. For example.[7] And keep in mind. leavening chemicals. baked goods do not contain large amounts of water but the chemistry of the water can affect doughs or batters. and eventually the finished baked good. If there are concerns that the water may have been contaminated with runoff from fields or elsewhere. provided they are installed properly. All of these factors are important to the bakery for overall quality assurance and sanitation. heavy metals. water hardness. These procedures should also include what tests should be done and the methods for doing the work. Both microbiological and chemical parameters should be tested. Maintain all your records and testing procedures in a separate file or binder so that test results may be quickly and easily accessed. Installing sample ports on water lines is a good idea. These should include how to sample. There are processors who have built additional safety into their systems by treating all waters entering the plant with chemicals or by UV light systems. Whether the added costs are worthwhile. that these analyses may be used to do more than just assure safety of your food and ingredients. Water may also contain dissolved minerals. soft. saline or alkaline.

Cleaning and Sanitizing Water is almost a universal solvent. Calcium and magnesium bicarbonates create highly alkaline water. Kathleen Feicht of Asta Food Research in Torrance. assuming it is hot enough or contains antimicrobial compounds or sanitizers. Water treatment or formula adjustments must be made to compensate for this condition. Bogart emphasized this point again and again at a recent symposium sponsored by the Institute of Food Technologists.Dr. The salt is often added in areas of soft water. flushing is the most important step in cleaning. Before selecting a cleaning compound. Flushing with water is the all- important first step in removing visible soil. The feeling is that this will enhance both quality and safety of the finished product. processors need to understand basic water chemistry and microbiology.[9] Cleaning compounds are used with water to enhance the cleaning ability of the water. calcium sulfate in a dough system stimulates yeast activity and has a strengthening effect on gluten structure. Water used for cleaning should be of good microbiological quality. Yeast and enzyme activities are compromised in dough made with alkaline water as the pH remains above the optimum range. it carries detergents and soils away from the surface and it can be used to sanitize a surface. and resisting the action of acids to lower the pH.[10] . Water carries detergents to the soil to be removed. Manufacturers of products such as infant foods or soft drinks may want to install the reverse osmosis systems mentioned earlier. Table 2 shows recommended microbiological guidelines for water destined for cleaning. increasing the buffer capacity of the water.[8] Calcium and magnesium precipitate from hard waters in steam lines and can then be carried by the steam used in bakery ovens to create spots on the top crust of breads and rolls. According to Dennis Bogart of Randolph Associates. Calcium sulfate is the primary component of scale formed on boilers and generally considered undesirable. CA provided the author with examples of how water hardness may affect the quality of baked goods. However.

It is especially important to let them know if water is being drawn from multiple sources. Hardness is easy to measure. Of course. the greater the antimicrobial activity. The water chemistry from waters from different sources may differ significantly. arrows or paint will provide plant personnel and visitors with a quick reference to what is flowing within the pipes and the direction of flow. the processor may need to treat it. Copper can be quite detrimental to certain foods and ingredients.[8] When working with a supplier of cleaning compounds. Chlorine is more effective at lower pHs. however. and hence. significant problems can occur. The wastewater systems simply could not handle both process water and sewage. It was determined that the copper water line to the blend tank added just enough copper to the product blend that the product quality began to deteriorate after a few days. cleaning and employees. the more hypochlorous ion in the system. The design and maintenance of floors and drains is a separate issue. The copper pipe was replaced with PVC and the problem disappeared. Plant Water Systems Care must be taken when designing a factory to assure that there is not only enough water to meet the needs of processing. profoundly affects the performance of cleaning chemicals. Failure to properly understand water chemistry can cost an operator money in both how much detergent is used and the time required for cleaning. Water softening may be necessary for both processing and cleaning applications. If a plant adds production capacity without taking a close look at their water systems. scale or precipitates on equipment surfaces. The lower the pH of the system. so it is not advisable to use copper if your foods are prone to oxidation. As an example. The one material that operators need to beware of is copper. Copper is a strong pro-oxidant. An integral part of wastewater disposal is the drains in the plant. It is a good practice to label all water and sewage lines. but also to allow maintenance and cleaning. and is measured in grains or ppm. particularly water hardness. floors must be properly graded to allow drainage. Drains must be designed to not only handle peak water usage.The chemistry of the water. Going With the Flow . be sure to be honest with them when they are developing your cleaning program. The author has observed a factory whose toilets backed up and overflowed into the plant during peak production times. If the water used is very hard. Copper will also react with certain flavors and ingredients. The use of colored tape. If the pH of your water is 8.5. This is something that needs to be done up front. Operators also need to take look at their processes and products and be sure that the materials from which materials their pipes are manufactured are compatable. the efficacy of chlorination will be significantly reduced. but that wastewater can be removed from the factory. Water chemistry can also affect sanitizer performance. Water hardness affects detergent consumption and may cause the formation of films. Table 3 defines water hardness. many years ago the author was involved in troubleshooting a problem on off-flavors in a blended product containing pineapple.

” Ecolab Food and Beverage Division. 8. Sanitation Control Procedures for Processing Fish and Fishery Products. yet it is something that far too many operators take for granted. CFR. and seafood processing. 4. 43:36.Water is an integral part of almost all food processing operations. 1990. Vol. programs and technical assistance provided by Rick’s technical services group resulted in more than 80 firms enhancing quality. 1994. aseptic systems. food plant sanitation. 2001. he was responsible for building programs targeted at ensuring the quality of Dole value-added products packed in the U. MN. Stier is a consulting food scientist with international experience in food safety (HACCP). K. Title 21 Parts 123 & 1240. CDC. FDA. Personal comm. Paul. He is a member of the Institute of Food Technologists and an editorial advisor to Food Safety Magazine. 2. It is also the one material that each and every one of us needs to live. quality and sanitation. quality systems. 1996. how it is removed. 3.. 7.M. Dec. Dec. Ito. process optimization. “Effects of Germicides on Microorganisms in Can Cooling Waters. Procedures for the Safe and Sanitary Processing and Importing of Fish and Fishery Products. Title 21 Part 110. 1995. 18. Cleaning and Sanitizing Short Course: Prerequisite Programs as a Basis for Ensuring Food Safety. 484-487.” Journal of Food Protection. which directly resulted in improved exports and an overall greater awareness of the importance of these three areas in international trade. FDA.L. and the quality of the water entering the operation. Inc. Florida Sea Grant Program. Rick served as Director of Quality Assurance for Dole Packaged Foods North American operations. 2002. high quality foods. Feicht. “Making the Right Choice. (1990). Personal comm. Orlando. Processors need to understand how water is delivered to their plant. FL. St. 2006. deep-fat frying. B. 1995 . Procedures for the Safe and Sanitary Processing and Importing of Juice. Ecolab. He can be reached at rickstier4@aol.S. Packing and Holding Human Food. Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HAACP). CFR. Gainesville. K. dehydration. sponsored by the Institute of Food Technologists. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly. It can affect food safety.com. Collettee. CFR. In this capacity. FL. Richard F. Coles. 43:6. 18. D. including canning. C. Chapter 1: Safety of Water. “Current Good Manufacturing Practices in Manufacturing. freezing. 9. Seeger. Bogart. June 23- 24. safety and/or sanitation programs. 5. GMP compliance and food microbiology. 2002. While working on a USAID funded project in Egypt.A. 6. FDA. 2000. Title 21 Part 121. References 1. et al. He has worked with a wide range of processing systems and products. and M. Understanding water quality and how it moves through the factory is one part of the equation needed to produce safe. 10. 1994.