Assuring Water Quality and Safety in Food Processing (Part 3)

Ice manufacture and water quality analysis requirements

How ice is manufactured, stored and used is another issue that should be part of a processor’s water management program. There is a sense that plant workers and their managers believe that frozen water cannot be a source of contamination. In many operations, especially in the seafood industry, water for chilling foods or blending is produced in large icemakers that deposit the ice in bins. Workers often “wade into” ice bins with shovels to fill bins with ice for production use. This is not a good practice since that ice may be used to chill foods.

The icemakers themselves also need to be cleaned and sanitized on a regular schedule. Processors with ice making capacity should sanitize their units on a weekly basis. They should also establish a regular maintenance program for the water filters. 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. Records of filter maintenance and icemaker cleaning and sanitizing should be maintained in the plant to document that the work has been done. To further assure the quality of ice used in production, processors are now treating water used for ice making with ozone. This helps assure that the ice is of good microbiological quality and can even help control the microbial load on certain products.

Water Quality Analysis

All food processors should test water in the plant from different outlets at least once each year—and preferably more often. Operators should collect water samples from the farthest faucet from the line in the facility and preferably from the cold side. This should be done even if water is obtained from a city water system. The water quality as it leaves a treatment plant and its condition when it gets to your plant may vary. This is especially true in cities where pipelines are old. If the water pipes are iron, it is quite easy to pick up that metal from the lines. High iron water, whether from old pipes or a natural source, is quite easy to detect. All one needs do is look for iron stains wherever there are leaks or drips.

Along these lines, processors should always request that the city provide them with water test results. These results are those obtained at the water treatment facilities. Having city water records does not preclude the processor from testing water from their own operations, however.

If water from multiple sources is being used (wells, city or wherever), be sure that samples from each source are tested. Both microbiological and chemical parameters should be tested. And keep in mind, that these analyses may be used to do more than just assure safety of your food and ingredients. Knowing the chemistry of the water coming into the plant will help in other areas. Microbial analyses should include total counts and coliforms. If there are concerns that the water may have been contaminated with runoff from fields or elsewhere, you may want to look for pathogens or parasites. Chemical tests should include pH, water hardness, heavy metals, pesticides, iron and nitrates. Water samples for complete chemical analyses should collected at least once a year and submitted to a recognized water testing laboratory.

Testing the microbiological quality of the water should be done more frequently. Be sure to establish documented programs for water sampling. These should include how to sample, how often to sample and where to sample. These procedures should also include what tests should be done and the methods for doing the work. If third parties are to be used for sampling and/or testing, be sure that the follow your procedures. 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, provided they are installed properly. Don’t leave a large deadleg. It is also a good idea to allow the sample port to “run” for a short period to flush the port. If water samples are being collected for microbiological testing and the water is chlorinated, be sure that the sampling program includes a step to neutralize any residual chlorine.

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, only time will tell, but no effort to assure safety should be criticized.

This article was first published in Food Safety Magazine, and is reproduced with permission: 


About the Author

Richard F. Stier is a consulting food scientist with international experience in food safety (HACCP), food plant sanitation, quality systems, process optimization, GMP compliance and food microbiology. He has worked with a wide range of processing systems and products, including canning, freezing, dehydration, deep-fat frying, aseptic systems, and seafood processing. Rick served as Director of Quality Assurance for Dole Packaged Foods North American operations. In this capacity, he was responsible for building programs targeted at ensuring the quality of Dole value-added products packed in the U.S. While working on a USAID funded project in Egypt, programs and technical assistance provided by Rick’s technical services group resulted in more than 80 firms enhancing quality, safety and/or sanitation programs, which directly resulted in improved exports and an overall greater awareness of the importance of these three areas in international trade. He is a member of the Institute of Food Technologists and an editorial advisor to Food Safety Magazine. He can be reached at