There have been few local studies conducted on water vending machines and numerous safety issues have come to light.
In 2014, tests conducted by Forum Air Malaysia (FAM) on water samples from water vending machines concluded that many water samples violated the standards for clean drinking water because bacteria such as E coli and Clostridium Perfringens were present.
Consumers who drink water contaminated by such bacteria will suffer symptoms of upset stomachs including stomach aches, food-poisoning, diarrhoea and queasiness. People with weaker immune systems such as babies, the sick, elderly and children will feel a more pronounced version of the effects.
Besides that, drinking contaminated water will also cause bloating or constant stomach pain. We may not realise that these symptoms can be caused by the water we drink.
The owners of water-vending machines usually target low-cost housing areas such as flats at high-density areas (near universities and colleges) to install their machines. Water from these machines may be the main source of water for some people. Neglect or poor maintenance of water vending machines will have a major impact on the health of consumers.
In 2014 FAM sent its test results and reports to the Food Safety and Quality Division (FSQD) of the Ministry of Health (MOH) to push for proper enforcement of water quality in vending machines. Water quality in vending machines comes under the Food Hygiene Regulations 2009.
Following that, the Ministry of Health did another round of testing on 630 machines to check if contaminated machines were being used.
The ministry has since mandated that all water vending machines in the country are required to have a license under Regulation 360c (4) of the Food Regulations Act 1985 by January this year.
By now, all water vending machines in the market should have the MOH license sticker. Stricter enforcement is required to maintain public health standards and the MOH should publicise a sample of the new license sticker in the media, so that consumers are aware of what it looks like.
Besides this, consumers who frequently buy water from vending machines should become the community’s ‘eyes and ears’ to report broken and rusty machines to machine vendors or to the MOH for further action.
This will help protect people from drinking contaminated water and stop illegal vendors from placing unlicensed machines in the market.
Jesslyn Pek Yen Lee is Communications and Policy Manager of Forum Air Malaysia (FAM).
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