Scotland’s water coolers teeming with dangerous bacteria

My friend Dave got into the bottled water biz in the 1980s in Hamilton, Ontario, providing those 5-gallon jugs for water dispensers at home and offices. I never was into that stuff, but the 5-gallon plastic carboys that people haul to the grocery store for a refill are excellent secondary fermentation vessels for home beer production.

But, for those who work in an office, the water cooler is, I’m told, the place for gossip, flirting and bacteria.

The Sunday Herald reports that tests for watchdog organization, Consumer Focus Scotland, found potentially dangerous bacteria in drinking water dispensers in workplaces, schools and care homes. The group says the dispensers need to be better cleaned and maintained, and that the Scottish government, along with the Food Standards Agency, should review existing legislation because it is difficult to enforce.

Environmental health officers found bacterial contamination in 23 out of 87 water dispensers sampled in Edinburgh, Lothian and Borders. They tested for five types of bacteria known to cause illness, particularly in people who are vulnerable due to frailty or ill-health.

Water from bottle-supplied coolers was the most contaminated, with 14 out of 35 samples containing bacteria. Eight samples showed the presence of coliform bacteria, usually associated with faeces, and three contained staphylococcus aureus, which can cause serious illnesses.

Nine of the 52 samples from plumbed-in coolers taking water from the mains were also found to be contaminated, sometimes by more than one type of bacteria.

The contamination is thought to be due to the poor hygiene habits of some drinkers. Unwashed hands, putting mouths to taps and refilling dirty bottles could all be to blame.