Hygienic operation of water dispensers: Proper handling and care can reduce the spread of germs
Water dispensers are widespread and are often used by people to quench their thirst. As water is fundamentally not free of germs, however, the germ count can rise in stand-alone water dispensers, i.e. in devices which are not connected to the mains drinking water supply of a building and use reusable water containers, especially when the ambient temperature rises. In addition to this, the water can be contaminated by dirty dispensing systems. The consumption of water with high germ counts can pose a health risk to people with an immunosuppression. "The proper handling of stand-alone water dispensers is therefore essential," according to BfR President, Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. People who set up water dispensers on their premises, i.e. doctors' practices, businesses or public buildings, therefore have a special responsibility. "They must ensure that the water dispensers are operated in such a way that there is no negative effect on the water". The BfR has prepared a leaflet containing recommendations for the correct set-up and care of stand-alone water dispensers in collaboration with the BfR Committee for Hygiene.
Link to leaflet:
http://www.bfr.bund.de/cm/350/hygienischer-betrieb-von-freistehenden-wasserspendern.pdf (PDF file,439.13 KB) (in German)
Many doctors' practices, businesses and public buildings are equipped with stand-alone water dispensers containing water which has been filled into reusable containers. The bacteria in the water can propagate when ambient temperatures are high. It is also possible that disease pathogens find their way into the filled water container through contaminated dispensing systems. Preference should therefore be given to devices which do not have a freely accessible tap. To avoid high germ counts in dispensed water, the BfR recommends in its leaflet to set up dispensers in dry rooms with low dust levels away from heat sources and direct sunlight. Furthermore, water dispensers should only be cleaned and disinfected by trained personnel in compliance with the instructions of each manufacturer. The frequency at which cleaning and disinfection are required depends on the device, its location and the usage intensity.
Especially in hospitals and other institutions in which the water consumers have an immunosuppression or other immune deficiencies due to age or illness, preference should also be given to water dispensers with a direct connection to the mains drinking water supply of the building. If this is not possible, the frequency of cleaning and disinfection should be increased.
As a basic principle, the instructions of the manufacturer regarding the set-up, operation, cleaning, disinfection and maintenance of each device should be observed. The BfR also recommends that the operators of stand-alone water dispensers adequately document all measures taken to minimise risks or have them documented by the maintenance company. If necessary, it should be possible to present this documentation to the responsible authorities.
About the BfR
The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.
The BfR is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, the Institute has published a jubilee brochure which can be downloaded or ordered free of charge at https://www.bfr.bund.de/en/publication/brochures-61045.html.
This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.