When drinking water becomes harmful

You are thirsty, very thirsty! And you reach out for the last bottle of water in the kitchen fridge to soothe your parched throat, though it is not cold.

Normally, many individuals would not even consider any water kept in the fridge as bad for consumption. Unlike food, the thought that it may have contaminants that could put the family’s health at risk is never considered.


Drinking water can be bad

If the power is out for days, quality of food and water in the refrigerator can be affected. “Environmental factors, packaging and processing methods may determine if such water, whether in bottles or sachets, is fit for drinking,” said Mr Bankole Okunbanjo, Director, Water Quality Control, Water Corporation of Oyo State.

Unopened bottles of plain water can last months, refrigerated or not, depending on how the water was treated before it was packaged.

According to Okunbanjo, “if its quality is good, relatively free of particles and micro-organisms and it is properly sealed in a bottle, its quality would not be affected, whether refrigerated or not.

“Organisms, when present in drinking water, deplete it of its oxygen content and as such, its taste will become unpalatable. In fact, water can start to smell or taste badly, especially if kept long and hot, for instance in the sun.

“Even when there are no organisms and the container is sealed, excluding air from entering it, overtime, particles can get deposited or seen floating in the water based on its pH. For instance, the equilibrium pH can favour plastic leaching into the water from bottles.”


How safe is water with particles for drinking?

Drinking such water depends on the individual. “Hardly will people want to take any water that has particles or taste; it may not be possible to judge the level of pollution or germs that may be proliferating in it,” he said.

It is always assumed that water is “clean” or “good” since it is from a bottle. But it can be bad, he said, when “there are particles in it, a portion is greenish or its taste has changed.”

Even clean water can turn bad if it is not covered. The water will become polluted with dust, which serves as a great area for micro- organisms to start thrive.

According to him, storing water, whether in bottles or sachets in the same fridge compartment with food items like  fish, may make the water not potable.

Storing bottled water near gasoline, paint or other noxious chemicals can also affect its quality negatively. Contrary to plastic bottles, nothing can penetrate a glass bottle to leave a weird taste.

Any need to worry about quality of drinking water? Professor Tanimola Akande, President, Association of Public Health Physicians of Nigeria, stated that the quality of the water before it is stored in the fridge, whether it is free of germs, determine its suitability for drinking and shelf life.

He declared: “The type of germ in the water will determine whether it would multiply or not, whether it is refrigerated or not. Some germs only get deactivated at almost the freezing point of water.”

Akande warned that, unlike food items, it may not be possible to know if water is contaminated by merely looking at it.

He stressed the importance of proper handling of containers and processing of water stored in the fridge for drinking.

Perhaps more importantly, reusing disposable plastic water bottles also has its risks. Water could “go bad” when the lips and mouth introduce micro-organisms into the water glass or bottle, if left out for extended periods of time, which can then begin to thrive under the right conditions.

Also, commercial water bottles tend to wear down from repeated use, which can lead to bacterial growth in surface cracks inside the bottle. But even with washing, these microscopic hiding places may still allow bacteria to linger.

A 2007 report entitled “Bottled Water Myths: Separating fact from fiction,” published in the journal ‘Practical Gastroenterology’, warned that “consumer reuse of commercially packaged bottles of water is not recommended from a microbe perspective.”

Professor Akande, however, said drinking water could be bad because public water supplies mostly bottled for drinking in homes could also be contaminated.

“Ideally, we should be testing the water from the public water supply that we drink. In its piping, micro-organisms can get into it. Even mandatory testing of the sachet water on sale to check its quality is important.”


How long does water last?

Sealed bottled water, whether refrigerated or not, has a shelf life of two years. Bottles of sparkling water can last one year or longer, while flavoured water or vitamin-enhanced water has a shelf life of about nine months.


How to tell if water is bad

Although not a perfect test, one’s senses are usually the most reliable instruments to tell if the water has gone bad. Some common traits of contaminated water are cloudiness and a strange taste or smell.