‘Most Sachet, Table Water Not Safe For Drinking’
AN overview of potable water standard
It is the standard that sachet water should have a shelf life of two months and bottled water, one year. If water were properly produced, the shelf life would be well maintained.
NAFDAC looks for the pH (this cannot be seen with the physical eyes, but measured with an instrument. A lot of the producers do not even know this. Microbiological analysis, by which bacterial colony development is checked, is another parameter. NAFDAC allows for a microbiological standard of about 100 bacterial colonies per field.
It might interest you to know that from the analysis done by the public analysts, we (in this plant) allow seven bacterial count per field, which is because I enforce quality as a professional in water technology. At the risk of appearing to sound off, there are very top brands of bottled water, which the microbiological quality, though still within quality limit, is as high as 50 (brand name withheld).
Water producers are supposed to go for re-certification by NAFDAC after two years for sachet water. For bottled water, it is done after five years.
Unfortunately, immediately after the first certification at take off, they just produce without control. Some go as far as using the NAFDAC approved number for sachet water for the bottled one as well. For the sachet, the number has an ‘L’ at the end, showing ‘listing’, but the bottled water numbering has no ‘L’. The numbers are supposed to be two different NAFDAC numbers. Some fraudulently remove the ‘L’ from the registration number from the sachet water and transfer the same to the bottled water.
It costs N50,000 to get water products to be re-certified by NAFDAC, usually done after five years.
Defaulting on re-certification by a day above the date on which it is supposed to be done costs double (N100,000).
In a recent re-certification exercise, NAFDAC used a consultant to run a seminar at the University of Lagos and we were given a standard manual to help us keep the process as recommended.
Lamentably, not many producers paid to attend the programme, which was well planned for public good and health.
Perhaps, due to lack of manpower and transparency, NAFDAC has reneged on enforcing the set down rules/regulation. This is why there is proliferation of sachet and bottled water everywhere without good quality.
There is no way producers can sell water at N50 per bag of 20 sachets if they run their production rigorously. It is alarming the way the public is also rushing at cheap products at risk of public health. They ignorantly claim that, ‘water is water.’
On how NAFDAC knows defaulters
The Agency knows the date it issued the last certificate to a bottled water producer prior to start of production. From that time, the clock for the five-year duration ticks on. It takes note of all the table water producers, at least, at take off.
The Public analyst is given water samples for analysis before presenting them to NAFDAC for final analytical check. If the check by the analyst falls short in one parameter, fresh samples are presented charged at the same rate as the failed samples. The cost is much and it sends many producers avoiding these checks to the deteriment of public health.
Standard water process flow chart
It is expected that the water be moved from the borehole as raw water, then through a number of filtration and treatment with chlorine and passed through Activated carbon before storage in the treated water tank.
Treatment of water with chlorine is determined by the result of analysis of the raw water. Sampling of raw water, under microbiological analysis would likely show ‘uncountable’ in the bacteria count, chlorination is then carried out in order to reduce the bacterial load of the water. There are other ways of sampling the borehole water to ensure that the storage tank does not cause bacterial contamination. This is standard process that any water producer must follow, unfortunately there are so many quacks and compromised processes that even NAFDAC has failed to monitor.
Water for production of sachet brand is drawn from the treated water tank and passed through set of industrial filters – carbon filter, micro filters and UV steriliser of a recommended length. (Carbon filter removes odour and colour, while the microfilters remove residual particles and dead bacteria).
Even the raw water directly from the borehole must be passed through sand and carbon filters as initial treatment.
NAFDAC expects any water producer to have a manager, who has a B.Sc or HND in the sciences, food technology, and microbiology to monitor these things. There are about 300 or more water producers in Alagbado zone, so water production chemists and other professionals should be needed as well as other supporting staff. The sector should generate a lot of employment either on full or part-time, if monitoring and enforcement are done properly.
The Table water producers
There is the Association of Table Water Producers, an umbrella body for all producers in the country that is supposed to have a measure of control on members. Even at the association level, tackling quacks has been a challenge. Some people are just dispensing raw water in sachets and bottles from their apartments of single or two rooms.
Some are known to set up anything during the dry season, when it is perceived there would be higher sales and disappear during the rainy season. For them, it is a seasonal thing, they are not commited to the business and such ones cannot call for NAFDAC inspection.
This kind of water has some unpleasant taste, but the consumer must have swallowed part of it before realizing what is up. Infection can ensue even with only a little quantity drank of a bad product. Incidentally, the producers of this kind of water have wide distribution network and well-branded packages.