Cleaning water is potable water used alone or with detergents. After use, that water may contain large amounts of metals, impurities and contaminants. At the very least, mineral accumulations can bind with organic soil to create a more complex hardened soil that resists general cleaning. This hardened soil creates a binding surface for microbes and allows the development of biofilms and slime (a thick biofilm).
In addition, cleaning water splashes everywhere, often ejecting soil and biofilm while transporting these to new locations, often hidden inside processing equipment. The biofilm supports bacteria, yeast and mold. It can also become thick and moist enough to support several species of very small fungus-eating flies. Look for hidden places contaminated by ejected soil.
Condensation is often overlooked. It can develop unexpectedly in cavities inside processing equipment. There, microbes can develop out of sight, until lab tests identify a hidden problem, starting the search for a source. Condensation can collect, then leak down vertical surfaces like walls and over dirty mechanical surfaces, leaving organic residues. In both cases, the water can collect and transport oil or soil to a new location, such as food ingredients, a food item or sterile packaging that may be directly below causing chemical or microbial contamination of food or food contact surfaces.
Condensation supports the growth of microbes, even when organic residues are present only in trace amounts. Few food facilities are clean enough to avoid development of mold and biofilms. Ensure that ventilation, air flow and air exchange rates are sufficient to reduce humidity and prevent condensation. Watch for areas with “dead air flow” when expanding facilities, and ensure that ventilation is upgraded to circulate the new air volumes to control humidity.
Water As an Ingredient
Water as an ingredient must be kept “food grade”. Constant vigilance is required to prevent contamination of food when water is used as an ingredient. Food and beverage manufacturing facilities typically use multiple types of water filters (sand, glass fiber or carbon) to remove potential contaminants as well as ultraviolet light and chlorine to ensure purity. Third-party laboratories can conduct periodic testing for minerals, heavy metals, toxic chemicals and microbes in the final water supply. Such tests are required quarterly or semi-annually for most food manufacturers, to verify that water remains safe to use in food.
Test often. Microbes can appear in water suddenly, due to any number of contamination events. We have encountered microbes in water in every type of food and beverage industry, including those with all of the filters, treatment methods and third-party testing mentioned above.