The next time you pick up a bottle of water from a roadside shop to beat the punishing summer heat, better be safe than sorry, say authorities. India’s food safety regulator FSSAI is planning a crackdown on companies selling packaged water without proper certification, after tests revealed a deadly cocktail of chemicals and bacteria in samples.
Contaminated water poses a massive health risk to India, as millions suffer from diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery, typhoid, jaundice and gastroenteritis every year. This has triggered a boom in the country’s packaged water industry, which has reached nearly Rs1,500 crore.
“The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has informed us that they have received several complaints that a large number of Food Business Operators are engaged in the business of manufacture and sale of packaged drinking water without FSSAI/BIS Certification Mark,” said Pawan Kumar Agarwal, chief executive officer of FSSAI. “BIS has also received complaints regarding mushrooming of units in various states for especially manufacturing and selling packaged drinking water without licences.”
The bureau has established standards for packaged drinking water and packaged natural mineral water, with set quality parameters. The rules come under mandatory BIS certification according to the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition & Restriction on sales) Regulation, 2011.
As per this regulation, “No person shall manufacture, sell or exhibit for sale, Natural Mineral Water and Packaged Drinking water, except under the BIS Standard Mark.”
Agarwal said states have been asked to provide details of enforcement activities such as numbers of inspections, samples collected, contraventions found as well as action taken.
“As the scorching summers have arrived, the sale of drinking water is expected to rise,” he said. “We have also written to all state food commissioners to strengthen the enforcement activities on unauthorised manufacture and sale of packaged drinking water without FSSAI and BIS mark.”
A study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research found several drinking water samples exceeding various chemical and bacterial parameters, which could pose serious threats to consumers.
Over 20 samples were tested at Ghaziabad’s National Test House, which showed that sachets of water sold in Delhi had a slew of hazardous qualities. “The bottled water samples showed negative growth for total coliform bacteria, while sachet and local bottled water samples had positive total coliform bacterial counts, which confirmed that they were unfit for consumption,” said Dr Ashish Singla, the author of the study. “Keeping in mind the rising demand of packaged drinking water, it becomes important for officials to monitor quality and ensure it’s licensed by concerned authorities to safeguard the consumer’s health.”
According to the ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution, 6,513 licensed companies were manufacturing packaged drinking water in India as on March 6 last year.
Experts say growing awareness about drinking water safety among urban residents and increasing tourist traffic is driving the market in a country where tap water is seldom potable. BIS ensures compliance of the standards of packaged drinking water and packaged natural mineral water manufactured by its licensees.
As part of a well-defined certification scheme, regular surveillance of the firms is done through site inspections as well as drawing of samples from factory and market followed by independent testing to check if the products conform to specifications.
If such the licensees are found at fault, warning, stoppage of marking and expiry or cancellation of licence can be initiated depending upon the seriousness and frequency of the transgressions.
As the implementation of Food Safety Act is done at the state level, random samples of packaged drinking water and mineral water are drawn by state officials.