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Not All Recalls are the Same, Not All E. coli is the Same. How the Bottled Water Recall is Different.

June 29, 2015

By: Carla Napier, MS- Assistant Scientist, Microbiology and Jennifer McEntire, PhD- Vice President, Science Operations

E. coli in bottled water! We’ve heard of E. coli in ground beef and spinach, and the related fatalities. Now bottled water? Is this dangerous? No! Actually, safety concerns are not associated with this bottled water recall.

Many people drink water, particularly bottled water, on a consistent basis because our bodies need it. When we think of water we think of hydration and purity but do we think of safety? No, and we should not have to think about safety because our regulatory framework requires that bottled drinking water is analyzed for microbial and chemical contaminants.. Bottled water is safe and even in the case of the latest recall from Niagara Bottling LLC safety was not in question. But how could a product containing E. coli be safe?

Albeit confusing, this is not the same E. coli that’s found in spinach and ground beef that causes illness. E. coli is everywhere – even inside of people. It’s a part of the normal bacteria that live in our gut. So, to learn that is was present at the source of spring water, although definitely undesirable and inappropriate for use as bottled water, should not be alarming. What is more important is the final product. A similar analogy would be cooking a hamburger or cooking chicken. Microorganisms are present in those food products but we cook the food to get rid of the microorganisms. Essentially, the same practices are applied to bottled water. It’s important to understand that in this particular recall the source water—before treatment—may have had E. coli in it. Therefore, the water producer notes that the water goes through quality and disinfection systems so that it’s free from contamination.

The Food and Drug Administration oversees bottled water and requires that water at the source, regardless of how it is processed for safety, be free of E. coli. What does this voluntary recall mean for the consumer? Basically, the water aisle in your local grocery store may have holes on the shelves where some of the products would normally be and that’s about it. Although the manufacturer recommends boiling the water before use, we anticipate that no one will die or be hospitalized from this recall assuming that adequate processes were in place during the bottling operation.

E. coli comprises a whole family of microorganisms which are generally not bad but there are a few that have pathogenic capabilities that give them a bad reputation. There are thousands upon thousands of microorganisms but really only less than 100 of them are problematic for humans — and the food industry puts forth tremendous effort to eliminate them from the foods we eat and beverages that we drink.


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