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Water Distributors Get FDA Warnings

Two bottled water companies that are well known in the areas they serve have run into trouble with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Sweet Springs in West Virginia and Girard Spring in Rhode Island received “Warning Letters” from FDA in January that found problems with both  “SweetSommer” and “Girard” natural spring waters.

As defined by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, both were found “adulterated.”

The 110-year old Girard Spring received a Jan. 6th “Warning Letter” from FDA’s New England District.  A Jan. 19th “Warning Letter” went out to SweetSommer Water Bottling Company LLC from FDA’s Baltimore District office.  Both were made public Jan. 26th.

Girard Spring, with a Web site that says its ‘rigid testing is performed before, during and after the bottling process, was inspected last Sept.  3 and 9 and responded to FDA’s inspection Form 483 report.  “Your response is inadequate because it did not include any documentation or records to show that the violations have been corrected.”

The violations FDA found at Girard Springs included:

Failure to take and analyze samples of source water at a minimum frequency of once each year for chemical contaminants, and once every four years for radiological contaminants.

Failure to take and analyze source water from non-public sources for microbiological contaminants at least once a week.

Failure to take and analyze at least once a week for bacteriological purposes a representative sample from a batch or segment of a continuous production run for each type of bottled drinking water produced during day’s production.

Failure to sample and inspect containers and closures.

Failure to inspect mechanical washer as often as necessary.

Failure to separate bottling room from other plant operations.

In addition, FDA said the porous cement walls do not protect Girard Springs and its system from contamination.  Ventilation is not adequate to prevent condensation in processing, bottling, and container washing areas.  And there were sanitary problems with contact surfaces, caps, and seals.

On its Web site, the Rhode Island bottler claims:  “Additionally, our “in-house lab tests daily for Coliform and Heterotrophic Plate Count from the source and finished products. This assures top quality that our customers have relied on for over a century. We also send water samples to independent and state certified labs.

“The RI Dept. of Health performs regular plant inspections and collects samples weekly for testing. We keep up to date on changes in the industry standards and regulations.”

Girard Springs produces water in one, three, and five gallon jugs and 16.9 oz. bottles.

The story is a little worse at SweetSommer, named for the daughter and granddaughter of Warren D. Smith, chief executive officer of the West Virginia bottling company.

Instead of a “sweet” water supply, the FDA inspection on four dates last September found dead mice floating and live salamanders swimming in the waters of the Spring, and a live frog and rodent droppings and nesting materials inside the house surrounding the spring.

SweetSommer failed to sample and analyze source water from non-public sources for microbiological contaminants at least once a week.  The company’s records showed it tested in only seven weeks during 2008, when it produced water for 18 weeks.

For 2009, it had records for only one of the 15 production weeks.  FDA says the spring water bottler failed to establish its source water was safe and sanitary.  Its record keeping came up short in several areas.

West Virginia’s Sweet Springs’ motto is “Water–the way water should be.”  It is part of the Peters Mountain watershed on the Great Eastern Divide.

“SweetSommerâ„¢ natural spring water is gravity fed from springs high in the mountain directly to the bottling plant located on the property of the Old Sweet Springs Resort,” the company’s Web site says.

“Bottled in FDA approved, recycled PET bottles, SweetSommerâ„¢ natural spring water has the ideal mix of calcium, magnesium and potassium for the perfect tasting, refreshing spring water… naturally with nothing added nothing taken away.”

SweetSommer is bottled in 20 oz and 16.9 oz containers.

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