Council cautions on contamination of hot and cold water dispensers
- CHOICE # 334 (August 16, 2004)
Hot and cold water dispensers are
virtually ubiquitous in the office - and increasingly at home. Are
these dispensers as hygienic as they are convenient in the delivery
of drinking water?
To assess the extent of the potential
problem, the Consumer Council has conducted a small-scale test on a
number of water samples collected from the dispensers on its office
The water samples, much to the relief
of its staff, scored a clean bill of health. No E. coli was
detected in the drinking water - though not without a Total
Bacterial Count (TBC) of 16 cfu/ml to 1,100 cfu/ml. As bacteria in
water dispenser are generally non-pathogenic, they are unlikely to
cause disease. Nonetheless, the bacteria may multiply very rapidly
to a large number over time, which may pose a potential health
problem to people if their body immune system is compromised.
A report published by the China
Consumer Association in 2001 indicated that water samples of
satisfactory bacteriological quality became immediately
contaminated on the very day the water was attached to dispensers
that had not been disinfected, rising to 100 cfu/ml to 370 cfu/ml.
On the third day, the TBC had escalated rapidly to 10,000 cfu/ml to
The bacteriological quality of carboy
water depends on two levels - first, the water itself and, second,
the dispenser through which the drinking water is delivered. So, if
the dispenser is not maintained in good hygienic condition, the
water gets contaminated, a phenomenon called "secondary
Clearly, one way to minimise the
problem of contamination of water dispenser is by proper and
regular cleaning and disinfection.
To assist consumers, the Council has
conducted a market survey on the cleaning and disinfection services
provided by nine water dispenser agents:
- For a fee, all agents will in fact offer cleaning and
disinfection service ranging from $80 to $690 per job, depending on
the dispenser model, on-site or off-site service, extent of
- But only some (3 out of 9) agents will provide it during the
free warranty period; and on expiration of the warranty period,
some (4 out of 9) agents will provide maintenance service that
includes cleaning and disinfection.
Consumers are advised to take heed of
the importance of good hygiene practice and proper use and
maintenance of water dispensers to minimise the chance of
This includes locating the dispenser
indoors in a clean, cool, dry, well-ventilated space, and away from
When placing the water, wash hands,
wipe the neck of the bottle with clean tissue paper, do not touch
the opening of the bottle. Equally important, do not touch the end
of the water dispenser spigots with hands or other objects.
It is also recommended that the
water, once placed on a dispenser, be finished within three to five
days. Therefore, depending on the usage frequency, small family
will do well to choose water of smaller volume for its
In addition, the Council has also
surveyed the prices of nine brands of carboy water, covering the
original price per bottle and the discount price of a total of 42
packages (exclusive of water dispensers):
- Based on their original price per bottle, the price variations
of carboy water (which comes in three kinds, namely, distilled
water, water with minerals, reverse osmosis purified water) are
substantial, ranging from $17 to $51 for the smaller size (around
11.3 litres), and $20 to $81 for the bigger size (around 18.9
- Even based on their package price, the difference, in the case
of distilled water, can be as much as three times - from $1.1 to
$4.2 per litre.
- On the whole, packages offer benefits in the form of price
discount. But do not be easily tempted by the lower unit price;
bear in mind that space is needed to store the used and new water
bottles and overdue coupons may not be redeemable.
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