Bottled water peril

by ROBIN YAPP, Daily Mail

Drinking bottled water may give you food poisoning, experts warned yesterday.

A study suggests that more than one in ten cases of the most common food bug were caused by mineral water.

Scientists behind the research said their findings could have serious implications for public health as the market for packaged mineral water continues to grow.

Annual sales in the UK are worth around £1billion and increase at around ten per cent a year.

The latest findings come from a study of campylobacter, the most common form of food poisoning - with 50,000 cases reported in England and Wales every year.

But experts estimate that for every case recorded, another seven go unreported - making a total of 400,000 people struck down annually. Symptoms include stomach pains and diarrhoea. But one in

1,000 victims develops Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause paralysis, and one in 20,000 die.

Past studies have shown undercooked chicken is the biggest cause. But this is the first time the alarm has been sounded over bottled water.

Dr Meirion Evans, of the University of Wales in Cardiff, who led the study, said: 'The possibility that natural mineral water is a risk factor for campylobacter infection could have wide public health implications. Drinking bottled water has not previously been recognised as a risk factor. But it is biologically plausible and could explain a substantial number of infections.'

The researchers sent questionnaires to everyone in the Cardiff area treated for food poisoning in

2001. They asked about foreign travel, contact with animals, medical conditions and details of the patient's diet in the seven days before he or she became ill.

Analysis suggested 12 per cent of cases could be attributed to bottled water. This compared to 31 per cent for chicken and 21 per cent for salad.

But Dr Evans states that the risk with chicken is well-established and known to the public and the risk with salad can be explained by contamination from soil or crosscontamination in the kitchen.

The research is published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Last night, the Natural Mineral Water Information Service said manufacturers already test for campylobacter.

It added that the researchers had not separated underground mineral water from spring water, which could be contaminated by agricultural waste.

Critics of the growing demand for mineral water claim it is purely due to successful marketing and point out that tap water has to pass at least as many health tests and is 1,000 times cheaper.

In July, watchdogs warned that mineral water can spend up to two years sitting on shelves after being bottled before it is finally sold.

Dr Evans notes that unlike tap water, bottled water may not be treated in any way that 'might alter its chemical composition'.

As a result, bacteria known as coliforms, which can cause diseases in high quantities, may remain in the water for 'a considerable length of time'.

Since a total of 400,000 people are thought to suffer campylobacter every year, the findings suggest that 48,000 - 12 per cent - of these cases could be linked to bottled water.

The Food Standards Agency said: 'Legislation requires bottled water to be free of pathogens like campylobacter, but we will be studying these results closely.'

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