What To Drink When You Suspect The Tap

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South Africans who believe the quality of the water in their taps has been compromised are forced to choose from alternatives available to them. And the go-to solution for many people when they can’t trust the tap is bottled water.

However, if the bottle does not feature the SANBWA logo (South African National Bottled Water Association), it is not bottled by a SANBWA-approved and audited producer who has adhered to stringent health and safety guidelines and legislation.

Bottled start-ups

Even worse, the water could be bottled by a fraudster who is using the contaminated source and passing it off as bottled water. Many companies and individuals are now offering ‘access to clean drinking water’ and cite other benefits like ‘job creation’ and cheaper ‘bottled water’ through different products and processes.

These ‘bottler’ start-ups bottle water with ‘turn-key’ small purification systems in informal locations and offer both pre-filled waters as ‘bottled water’ as well as re-filling on the spot. The practice of filling, sealing, and labelling the water makes that provider/bottler legally responsible for food safety. This is not practical in informal or retail spaces as packaged water needs a dedicated hygienic facility with formal quality management systems in place and testing per daily production batch.

Re-filling Stations

Re-filling water falls under the Department of Water Affairs as ‘drinking water’ regulated by SANS241. This means one may only re-fill into the consumer’s container or a new container on the spot and only if chemical and microbiological safety for human consumption can be assured.

This can pose a real risk to consumer safety if they are not designed and maintained with hygiene and food safety in mind. For example, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a pathogen, is often found in these systems. It is a biofilm or ‘slime’ former and its presence indicated that the equipment is not cleaned and sanitised properly and that the operation is open to the environment.

Furthermore, once any food is sealed it becomes a closed package system, and hygiene practices during its source, preparation, and manufacture will determine its shelf life. And, the product needs a best-before date and production batch code per daily production batch.

Other black marks against these waters are that they are often displayed alongside legitimate packaged water brands plus the fact that labelling is often incorrect.

If you can’t guarantee – because there’s no SANBWA logo, there are alternatives you can carefully consider:
  • Boil the water for at least 1 minute (preferably 2 minutes) at a rolling boil to kill all harmful bacteria, parasites, and viruses from drinking water.
  • Simply fill clear PET containers with water and leave them in the sun for at least four hours. The technique is called SODIS, or solar disinfection, as the UV-A rays in sunlight kill germs such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites (giardia and cryptosporidia).
  • Treat smaller volumes of drinking water using a chemical disinfectant or water purification tablets bought from pharmacies and camping stores. Make sure to follow the instructions exactly.
  • Buy water from a water refilling station but be very aware of profiteers who provide an unknown quality of water under illegal conditions in the guise of providing safer drinking water through various bubbling wonder tanks.

Finally, you can purchase a home filtration system. But not all home filtration systems on the market can deliver the purity levels promised. Most require the water to already be potable and have low levels of contaminants for it to deliver the promised 99.999% purification. Do your research and do not be tempted by deals that seem too good to be true,” she said.

SANBWA members brands are Aqua Monte, aQuellé, Bené, Bonaqua, Nestlé Pure Life, Dargle Water, Designer Water, Aquabella, Fontein, La Vie De Luc, Thirsti and Valpré. All SANBWA member producers carry the SANBWA logo on their bottles. This acts as a seal of quality.