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Food industry: the vital role of water quality in food safety

Updated: Jun 11


A woman with a hair net cutting up lettuce

Water quality is crucial for food safety. Food production is an intricate web in which every component matters, especially water. From cultivation to processing, water touches every stage of food production. Thus, ensuring the safety and integrity of food products means guaranteeing high-quality water to safeguard public health and uphold industry standards. 


In an era where consumers are more conscious than ever about the safety and quality of what they eat, the food industry continually seeks innovative solutions to enhance food safety measures. Let’s explore the connection between water quality and food safety, the various challenges brought on by inadequate safety measures, and the innovative solutions, such as BactoSense, that provide a rapid and reliable method for detecting harmful bacteria.


The importance of water quality in food production

Water plays a multifaceted role, from irrigating crops to sanitising equipment, even as a key ingredient in food products. This is why the water quality can profoundly impact the safety and quality of the final food offered to consumers. 


To give some examples:

  • Many food products use water as an ingredient in various production, cleaning and processing operations. For instance, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), responsible for protecting public health in the US, warns companies failing to comply with sanitation rules. This was recently the case with a kimchi and sprout producer in Texas.

  • From pre-harvest to distribution, polluted water can cause physical, chemical and biological contamination at any stage of food production. This can lead to illnesses and other health hazards. Consider the challenge of mycotoxin contaminations in corn crops and its by-products. Maize gluten meal is produced by wet milling (using water) and is particularly vulnerable to mycotoxin contaminations during the pre-and post-harvest phases.

  • Poor water quality can also negatively affect food preservation and storage.

  • Food production activities can be disrupted if water sources become contaminated through runoff or wastewater discharge (to name a few). For example, climate change increases the prevalence of Listeria in soil, leading to decreased agricultural water quality.


Therefore, proper water treatment, source management, and hygiene practices are critical throughout the food supply chain to ensure food safety and quality.


Inadequate safety measure issues

Food manufacturers must pay adequate attention to water quality to address the various challenges the food industry faces. Mismanagement of water resources, lapses in equipment maintenance and neglect of safety protocols can have dire consequences. Contaminated water can lead to reduced product quality, revenue losses from recalls, and, most critically, jeopardise consumer health. Moreover, overlooking water quality exacerbates environmental concerns, which creates a cycle of inefficiency and risk. 


Food production can also affect water quality since crop, livestock and aquaculture production all contribute to water pollution.


  1. Crop production

Crop product systems have been intensified with increased fertiliser and water use, which affects water quality in several ways. For example, India rapidly increased agricultural production by using more synthetic fertilisers such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. As a result, the runoff to surface waters of these substances increased, and higher concentrations were detected in various Indian rivers.


  1. Livestock production

Livestock manure is a significant source of nitrogen and phosphorus required for soil fertilisation. The potential impact of livestock management on the quality of groundwater can be demonstrated by the risk posed by animal feeding operations. By using extensive groundwater monitoring and integrating models to assess the impact of pollution, pollutant sources and their transport through various zones to groundwater can be proactively managed. 


  1. Aquaculture production

Feed aside, intensive aquaculture production also includes heavy usage of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers. An example is the tilapia and shrimp production in Thailand. Ponds are filled with fertilisers and herbicides meant to prevent algae blooming due to the high concentration of nitrogen and phosphates. Pesticides are also used to reduce the disease pressure in fish and seafood. Novel approaches with recirculating and quality-controlled aquaculture systems (RAS) are needed to tackle these issues.


Solutions for ensuring water quality food safety, enter BactoSense

Amidst these challenges, innovative solutions are around to reinforce food safety measures and mitigate risks. These include, but are not limited to, advanced water treatment and disinfection technologies and improved water quality monitoring and management. BactoSense stands at the forefront with its microbial detection technology. Leveraging cutting-edge flow cytometry, BactoSense offers rapid and precise detection of harmful bacteria in water samples. Its automated system expedites detection processes, empowering food manufacturers to address contamination threats and uphold stringent safety standards proactively.


BactoSense: enhancing food safety in the food industry

Engineered for precision and efficiency, BactoSense uses optical and biochemical methods to deliver accurate results in near real-time. Moreover, its cartridge system streamlines the process, eliminating the need for specialised personnel and ensuring secure handling of potentially hazardous substances. Its automated detection system allows users to set alarms to be promptly notified when bacterial counts exceed predefined thresholds.


Some benefits include:


Rapid detection: BactoSense dramatically shortens the duration needed for microbial detection in various water sources crucial for food production. This includes water for primary ingredients, fruit and vegetable cleaning and cooling. Unlike traditional methods, which can take days to yield results, BactoSense delivers accurate data within 20 minutes. This rapid detection through flow cytometry empowers food and beverage manufacturers to promptly implement corrective measures, effectively averting the distribution of contaminated products to consumers.


Cost-efficiency: Initial investment aside, the long-term benefits outweigh the costs. By significantly reducing the need for extensive manual testing, BactoSense minimises labour costs and mitigates the financial impact of potential recalls. For example, deploying BactoSense post-CIP processes offers insights into effectiveness within a short timeframe. This allows food manufacturers to optimise operational efficiency and chemical use.


Compliance: The food industry is subject to stringent regulations to ensure consumer safety. BactoSense facilitates regulatory compliance by providing reliable data demonstrating adherence to food safety protocols, such as the HACCP management system. Companies reinforce consumer trust and uphold industry integrity by consistently meeting and exceeding these standards.


Detection range: BactoSense offers versatile applications. It can detect a broader range of bacteria than traditional methods like heterotrophic plate count (HPC). While HPC may only detect a fraction of cultivable bacteria (0.1–1%), BactoSense detects nearly 100%, offering comprehensive insights into the bacterial flora in the sample.


As BactoSense enhances food safety, innovative technologies will only improve industry practices. It’s not just about what we do now but how we’re building a safer future for what we eat. 


Closing the loop: ensuring water quality for a safe food supply

Consumer scrutiny and regulatory demands loom large. Prioritising water quality in food production is non-negotiable. Innovative technologies like BactoSense emerge as indispensable assets. Rapid, accurate, cost-effective detection of harmful bacteria is paramount for safeguarding public health and preserving food product integrity. With BactoSense leading the change, the food industry is better equipped to surpass regulatory benchmarks, instilling consumer confidence regarding product safety. By leveraging the innovative capabilities of BactoSense, food manufacturers can navigate the evolving landscape with heightened efficiency, resilience and commitment to excellence in food safety.


Contact us about potential use cases in your food production line to secure tomorrow’s plate by leveraging evolving food safety practices.


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