Classy Water, bottled by Belay Industrial Plc, has been shut down by the authorities due to water quality issues.
A cease and desist order was issued against the bottler on September 20, 2018, a day after a press release by the Ministry of Trade warned the public against drinking Classy Water. The Ministry said that a batch of bottled water produced in April 2018 had failed to pass a random market inspection test.
The bottler has been passing standard tests being carried out by the Ethiopian Conformity Assessment Enterprise every three months. The company was initially told that it failed a test carried out in July of this year.
But after Classy requested a repeat test, the Enterprise ascertained that the bottler had met all the standard requirements.
Nonetheless, on one of the Ministry’s mandated random inspections, carried out regularly on various consumable goods currently in circulation, it was discovered that the bottler did not conform to the standards, according to officials at the Ministry.
The Ministry says that a batch bottled in April carried a level of heterotrophic plate count (HPC), a measure of heterotrophic bacteria in drinking water, higher than is legally allowed.
“The company can’t be held responsible for its products after they are distributed and reach the market,” Muluken Gashu, finance manager of Classy Water, said. “Storage conditions have a great effect on the quality of the water.”
All the company can assure is that its products have passed the Conformity Enterprise’s safety tests and are safe for drinking, according to him.
“To close the company because of allegedly defective products in the market after five months of production is unjustifiable,” said Muluken.
Dagne Yesegat, who owns Belay Industrial with his family, believes that even the public warning that the Ministry issued is futile.
“Products from that period have probably already been consumed, and there are no complaints that have surfaced,” he said.
Classy Water, with its bottling plant located around Sululta, employs 165 people and has 40 million Br in capital.
Classy Water is not new to accusations by the Ministry. It had been receiving warnings since its establishment in 2007. It was told to cease production last year by the Ministry for the same reason as now, while the bottler was passing tests by Conformity Enterprise.
“We haven’t had such complaints from Standards Enterprise,” says Muluken. “It’s always the batch the Ministry tests on its own that we are told has defects.”
To establish a bottled water manufacturing plant, one must pass minimum requirements and standards set by different government offices.
At the Ethiopian Standards Agency, there are at least four standards directly associated with water bottling – packaging and labelling, a specification of bottled drinking water and standards on plastic materials for food contact use.
The Food & Drug Administration Authority issues a Certificate of Manufacturing Competency after conducting evaluations on production inputs, such as infrastructure components, human resources, technological inputs and production environment.
The Ethiopian Conformity Assessment Enterprise provides inspection and laboratory testing services. The Enterprise’s services cost the companies of 40,000 Br to 50,000 Br. The product must fulfill 54 parameters set as the standard during the laboratory test.
The certificate by the Enterprise must be renewed every year, and a new one is issued after half a decade. It also conducts tests every three months and subjects the bottling companies to inspection.
The Enterprise also conducts unannounced factory visits to check the performance of the factories by taking samples from the main checkpoints of the production line.
Out of the tests carried out by the Conformity Enterprise is the HPC. It refers to the count of a group of microorganisms that use organic carbon sources to grow and can be found in all types of water.
The Ethiopian standard for HPC count is five times lower than the one set by the United States.
Fassil Assefa (PhD), a lecturer of environmental microbiology at Addis Abeba University with more than two decades of experience, said that the United States standard is safe to uphold.
“The country can set its total plate counts and subject bottling companies to adhere to it,” he said. “However, reporting that higher HPC levels than the Ethiopian standard could lead to serious health issues is false.” This statement assumes that the tastes results obtained by the ministry did not exceed the 500 CFU/mL HPC standards set by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Classy Water plans to take the case to court, according to Muluken.
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