Water Safety Considerations for Food & Beverage Companies

Step back to the year 1767. That’s when the first bottled water was commercially distributed and sold in colonial America at a place called Jackson's Spa in Boston. Customers were said to believe that the spa water had therapeutics properties, which could cure common ailments. Likely, such claims were exaggerated if not outright false. But one thing most certainly true was that, back then, bottled water would have carried a lot of bacteria and other contaminants. 

Now fast forward to today and think about customers reaching for a bottle of water or a can of soda from a large national brand, or even a smaller regional one. That simple act of taking a sip is now highly predicated on one core, yet almost invisible, feature: Trust that the drink is clean and safe. That fact that food and beverage (F&B) companies make products we consume every day that don’t make us sick, or worse, did not happen overnight, and it certainly didn't arrive by luck. It was the result quality control protocols and systems refined and tested over the years.

Today, F&B companies make sure their own water safety processes and practices rely on reliable, accurate and fast testing of bacteria and other risk contaminants at key points of production – a process known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). 

HACCP is used together with various water treatment solutions to manage contamination and ensure the safety of water used in food and beverage processing. Some key steps include: 

HACCP involves conducting a thorough analysis to identify potential hazards that may pose a risk to the safety of food or beverages. This includes microbiological, chemical, and physical hazards that may be present in water used for processing. For example, water may contain harmful microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, or parasites, or chemical contaminants, such as pesticides, heavy metals, or disinfection byproducts, which can pose a risk to food safety.

Once hazards associated with water are identified, HACCP requires establishing CCPs, which are specific points in the food or beverage processing where controls can be applied to prevent, eliminate, or reduce hazards to an acceptable level. In the context of water treatment, CCPs may include steps such as water source monitoring, water treatment processes (e.g., filtration, disinfection), and water quality testing to ensure that water used in food and beverage processing meets the required safety standards.

HACCP outlines continuous monitoring of CCPs to ensure that the controls are effective in preventing or reducing hazards. In the case of water treatment, this may involve monitoring key parameters such as water temperature, pH, residual disinfectant levels, and microbial counts to ensure that the water treatment processes are working effectively. Verification activities may also include regular water quality testing and analysis to confirm that the water used in food and beverage processing meets the required safety standards.

If a hazard is identified at a CCP or if a deviation from established critical limits occurs, HACCP dictates implementing corrective actions to address the issue promptly. In the context of water treatment, this may involve adjusting the water treatment processes, conducting additional water quality testing, or taking appropriate corrective measures to ensure that the water used in food and beverage processing is safe.

HACCP requires thorough documentation and record keeping of all the steps taken to implement and maintain the HACCP plan, including water treatment processes and monitoring activities. This documentation serves as evidence of compliance with food safety regulations and provides a basis for verification and audits.

It's important to note that testing tools should be used in conjunction with other HACCP components, such as good manufacturing practices, standard operating procedures, and regular monitoring, to ensure the effectiveness of the overall HACCP plan. The selection of testing tools should be based on the specific requirements of the HACCP plan, the type of food or beverage product, and regulatory requirements. 

When testing for contamination, intact cell count (ICC) is one of the best ways to measure bacteria compared to other methods because it provides a more accurate representation of viable, intact bacterial cells that are capable of causing food-borne illness or spoilage.

Here are a few reasons why ICC is preferred in many cases:

  1. Counts Single Cells: Intact cell count directly quantifies viable (i.e. alive) bacterial cells. The method does not infer the amount of cells from other parameters and does not include dead or damaged cells that may not pose a risk to food safety or quality. 
  2. Reflects Cell Viability: Intact cell count measurements do not depend on bacterial growth as other methods do. Cells that are viable but non culturable (VBNC) can represent a large share of cells in a sample and may, as a result, provide a false sense of safety. 
  3. Considers Sublethal Damage: Intact cell count takes into account sublethal damage to bacterial cells, which refers to damage that may not cause immediate cell death, but can affect the ability of cells to grow and reproduce. Sublethal damage can occur due to various factors, such as exposure to antimicrobial treatments or environmental stresses, and can impact the safety and quality of food products
  4. Provides Accurate Results: Intact cell count can be considered more accurate and reliable compared to other methods, as it directly quantifies viable cells, is culture-independent, and does not resort to proxy-parameters or most probable number calculations. This can provide a more precise and representative measure of bacterial populations in food and beverage products.
  5. Supports Regulatory Compliance: Many regulatory guidelines and standards for food safety, such as those established by regulatory agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), recommend the use of rapid methods for assessing bacterial populations in food and beverage products. By using ICC methods, F&B companies can ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and demonstrate their commitment to food safety.


With rqmicro.COUNT, F&B companies can rapidly and efficiently detect and quantify bacteria in water on-site at critical control points. Among the benefits of the rqmicro.COUNT instrument:

  • Speed: First results are available after 30 minutes from taking the sample
  • Accuracy: High sensitivity on a single-cell level
  • Versatile: Test kits available for unspecific cell counting (ICC and TCC) and specific pathogens (E. coli, Legionella) on the same platform
  • Networked: Connect to secure cloud platforms which enables online data analysis, automated alarms and sharing of reports
  • Simplicity: Ready-to-use reagent tubes and single-use cartridges make flow cytometry easy and convenient as never before

Read more about Microbial Monitoring in F&B

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Monitoring and Testing Considerations for Water Utilities