Health Warning Over Water Coolers

Dirty water coolers may be putting people’s health at risk, a consumer watchdog has warned.
In a recent environmental health survey 23 out of 87 samples from dispensers showed bacterial contamination. Coolers in leisure centres, offices, care homes and schools were among those to fail the tests.
The survey showed nine out of the 52 samples from plumbed-in coolers and 14 out of the 35 from bottle-supplied coolers failed because of bacterial contamination.The types of bacteria found had the potential to cause illness among the frail or those who were already suffering ill-health.

There are regulations for bottled water, which are applicable at the time of bottling but there is no legislation specifically for plumbed-in water coolers. These findings suggest that the cleanliness of water coolers has become a low priority for some organisations who have installed them.

Organisations need to make sure coolers on their premises are cleaned and maintained regularly but they also need to get people to use them in such a way that they don’t contaminate them for the next person.

In 14 samples, scientists found coliforms, bacteria of soil and gut origin, which may indicate faecal contamination. Some of the bacteria types found suggested there had been cross contamination, with someone perhaps drinking directly from the tap or touching it with a saliva-tainted bottle. Other types of bacteria found suggested there was a problem with the cleaning and maintenance of the pipe work.

It is recommended that the exterior of water coolers be cleaned at least once a week. Bottle-supplied machines should be cleaned internally every three months, while plumbed-in versions should have their filters changed every six months.