Consumer danger denied in Irish water safety response

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food safety Bottled water Escherichia coli

Suppliers of bottled mineral water products in Ireland maintain that the public faced no danger from its products during a 2007 investigation by authorities into potential product contamination.

Reports appearing this week in the Irish Times newspaper alleged that documents obtained under the country’s Freedom of Information Act found food safety authorities had failed to act immediately in notifying the public over product safety.

The report claimed that the correspondence found official concern that the general public had not been alerted at the time over the contamination of some branded waters with pathogens such as E. coli​.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) refused to comment on the reports, pointing to findings it had published in December suggesting any potentially dangerous products had been immediately removed from the market.

“A number of non-compliances were found and at the time were corrected immediately, with a number of bottled waters withdrawn from the market and corrective actions taken by the industry,”​ stated the FSAI in its findings.

Bottled water standards

Trade association, the Beverage Council of Ireland (BCI), which represents bottling groups, said it had been working with both the FSAI and National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) in ensuring standards on bottled waters.

In a statement, the BCI claimed that although the standard IS 432 had been adhered to for years, the association was working with the same authorities to review the current regulations.

FSAI report

Under these regulations, the FSAI claimed that consumers had not been at danger from consuming products sold on the market.

FSAI chief executive Dr John O’Brien, said that December’s report formed part of a regular microbiological surveillance over a specific time to combine data supplied by environmental health officers (EHOs) to review past inspections of previous findings. O’Brien claimed that a minority of the 952 products tested in the country were not in compliance with European Commission regulations on microbiological criteria for mineral, spring and other bottled waters.

“We do not wait until a report is compiled – if foods are found that are not compliant with the food safety legislation, then immediate action is taken,”​ he stated. “The report gives a snap shot of bottled water on the market in 2007 where a small number of samples 10 out of 952 (1 per cent) were detected with E. coli – 99 per cent were found to be compliant.”

According to the EHOs, 6.3 per cent of surveyed products sampled did contain the coliform bacteria that is linked to hygiene concerns at the source of bottling plants. FSAI added that the bacteria was not a clear indication that consumer health was at risk, but that any contamination as unacceptable and had been dealt with.

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