2011-2012 Investigating the Microbiological Quality and Safety of Bottled Drinking Water

Executive Summary

The Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP) aims to modernize and enhance Canada's food safety system in order to better protect Canadians from unsafe food and ultimately reduce the occurrence of foodborne illness.

In Canada, the annual consumption of bottled water has increased from 32.7 to 67.8 liter per person over the last decade. Bottled waters are not sterile and can contain bacteria from naturally occurring sources. These bacteria may lead to water spoilage, but generally do not cause waterborne illnesses. Harmful microorganisms could be introduced to bottled water during the production, transportation of source water and bottling, if Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) were not followed. Compared to other drinking water sources, very few outbreaks have been associated with bottled water. There has been no waterborne disease outbreaks associated with bottled water in Canada. However, with the significant increase in the consumption of bottled water, concerns over its microbiological safety and quality have been raised.

Considering the above factors and their relevance to Canadians, bottled water has been selected for a targeted survey in the 2011/12 fiscal year under the FSAP. The main objectives of this survey were to generate current baseline surveillance data on the microbiological quality and the occurrence of hazards of concern in bottled water available in the Canadian retail market.

In this survey, a total of 843 samples of bottled water, including imported and domestic, spring, mineral and other types of water, were collected and tested for bacterial, viral and parasitic microorganisms of concern. Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Aeromonas hydrophila, which can cause illness in people with low immunity,were not detected in any of the 504 samples sent for bacteriology analysis. One sample was found to exceed Health Canada's standard for total coliforms, a group of harmless bacteria used as an indicator of microbiological quality. Cryptosporidium was not detected in any of the 194 samples tested for this parasite. Hepatitis A virus was not detected in any of the 145 samples sent for virology testing, while Human Rotavirus and Norovirus were detected in one and two samples, respectively. It is important to note that the current methods for virus detection are molecular-based assays that do not differentiate living, infectious viruses from dead viruses. Therefore, it is impossible to determine if the viruses detected in the positive samples were capable of causing illness. No outbreaks associated with these products were reported during this survey. Based on the above considerations, immediate follow-up actions were not taken on the positive samples.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulates and provides oversight to the food industry, works with provinces and territories, and promotes safe handling of bottled water throughout the production chain. However, it is important to note that the bottled water industry, importers, and retail sectors are ultimately responsible for the bottled water they produce, import, and sell, while individual consumers are responsible for the safe handling of the bottled water they have in their possession. Moreover, general advice for storage and safe handling of bottled water is available. The CFIA will continue its surveillance activities and inform stakeholders of its findings.

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