Water Cooler Safety

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Published 30th September 2009, 12:8pm

Do you clean your bottle water cooler?

Bottle water coolers have become a way of life for many households in Cayman. They have several advantages - saving energy, preventing kids from always opening the refrigerator, freeing up space in your fridge and lowering the cost of providing individual bottles for your family. But are you aware that bottle water coolers need to be maintained and cleaned, and that bacteria may build up in your water cooler leading to illness?

The Department of Environmental Health is accordingly reminding the public to clean water coolers if this has not been done within the last three months. Please follow the guidelines listed below:


  • Unplug cooler's cord from electrical wall outlet.
  • Remove empty bottle.
  • Drain water from the reservoir(s) through faucet(s).
  • Prepare a disinfecting solution by adding one-tablespoon (15 ml) of plain household bleach to one Imperial gallon (4.5 L) of tap water. (This solution should not contain less than 100 ppm available chlorine). Note: Other disinfecting solutions may be suitable; check with your water cooler supplier.
  • Wash reservoir thoroughly with the bleach solution and let stand for at least two minutes to be effective, but not exceeding five minutes, to prevent corrosion.
  • Drain the bleach solution from reservoir through faucet(s). Clean outside of faucet(s) with clean cloth or paper towel dipped in the bleach solution.
  • Rinse reservoir thoroughly with clean tap water, draining water through faucet(s), to remove traces of bleach solution. If tap water is suspect, i.e. from a well or cistern, boil briskly for 10 minutes and let cool before using that water to rinse the cooler.
  • Note: Clean your bottled water cooler with every bottle change or at least once per month. Also ensure that bottle covers are disinfected before placing on the cooler and that the faucet is cleaned as well.

Drip Tray (located under faucets):

  • Lift off drip tray.
  • Remove the screen and wash both tray and screen in mild detergent.
  • Rinse well in clean tap water and replace.

Replacing Bottle:

  • Wash hands with soap and warm water before handling.
  • Wipe the top and neck of the new bottle with a paper towel dipped in household bleach solution (1 tablespoon (15 ml) of bleach, 1 gallon (4.5 L) of water). Let dry. Rubbing alcohol may also be used, but must completely evaporate before placing the bottle in the cooler.
  • Remove cap or sticky label from new bottle.
  • Place new bottle on cooler.

What is safe storage and use of bottled water?

The 18 L bottled water carboys should be dispensed through a refrigerated water cooler that is kept clean to avoid contamination. Check the bottling date and best-before-date on the bottle to determine freshness. Like many food products, bottled water normally contains low amounts of harmless bacteria. However, if stored for prolonged periods at room temperature, these bacteria can multiply rapidly.

Can I store and use bottled water in cases of emergency?

Yes. You can store large quantities of bottled water in a basement or cool storage area. The water should be inside well-sealed containers, kept out of direct sunlight and changed every year. Bottled water manufacturers indicate that their product has a two-year shelf life.

What should I look for when buying bottled water?

It is recommended that you take the following precautions:

  • Don't buy bottles with broken seals. Examine the outside and inside of the bottle before you buy. Do not buy any bottles with materials floating inside. Report any tampering or extraneous material to the store manager and health officials.
  • Do not be fooled by impressive labels. Examine the bottle and label for date of manufacturing or manufacturing code, best-before-date, chemical analysis (declaration of minerals), treatment (ex. ozonized, ozonated etc.), company contact number, location and type of source water.
  • Do not refill old bottles. Please return to the manufacturer. It is preferable to buy newly manufactured bottled water.
  • To ensure safe use of bottled water, store in a cool, clean environment away from heat and sunlight. Although manufacturers give bottled water a best-before-date or shelf life of two years, the DEH suggests you replace it after a year.
  • Ensure that your delivered water is left in a cool, shady area. DO NOT leave in the sun.
  • Clean water coolers regularly--once every month.
  • Use water dispensers with coolers that keep the water refrigerated.
  • Clean the outside of the bottle cap and neck before replacing the bottle, wiping with the chlorine solution described above.

For further information on maintaining your bottle water cooler, please contact the DEH Laboratory at 949-6696.