Uses of Water in Food Production and Processing

Water is routinely used in food production as an ingredient, for cleaning, sanitation and manufacturing purposes. This article discusses the sources, treatments and uses of water by food businesses, and the importance of maintaining a safe water supply to ensure production of safe and quality foods.

Water quality
In Europe, the food industry is required to have an adequate supply of drinking water (i.e. potable water) available for use in food production to ensure foods are not contaminated.1 Drinking water is water fit for human consumption (e.g. drinking, cooking and food preparation) and in principle must be free from microorganisms and other contaminants that may endanger public health.2

Water source
Drinking water is supplied to the food industry either publicly by local government authorities or privately by the food business itself. Across Europe the majority of drinking water supplied to the food industry, comes from public supplies. However, the source of the water used to supply the drinking water can come from a variety of sources including surface water (e.g. streams, rivers, and lakes), groundwater (e.g. natural springs, wells), rainwater and seawater (treated at a desalination plant).

It is the source of water which generally determines the quality of the water and if treatment of the water is required to ensure it meets drinking water standards and is safe to be used in food production (i.e. safe for human consumption).

Water treatment
Water treatment processes remove pathogens and impurities that may otherwise be harmful to human health or aesthetically unpleasant. Treatment processes vary depending on the source water. But typically, an absorbent material is added to the water to bind dirt and form heavy particles that settle to the bottom of a water storage tank. The water is then filtered to remove even smaller particles. Finally, a small amount of disinfectant (e.g. chlorine), at a level safe for human consumption, may be added to kill any remaining microorganisms.

The provision and treatment of private water supplies used by the food industry is the responsibility of the specific food business using the supply. Typically private water supplies will require treatment and ongoing verification following treatment (e.g. laboratory testing) to ensure they are fit for human consumption and can be used in food production.3

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