As if contaminated cabin air wasn't enough......
Aircraft tap water found to be contaminated

From the Wall Street Journal, November 1 2002:

"For years, fliers have worried about everything from stuffy cabin air to bad meals. But what about the water? While airlines insist it's safe to drink, some little-noticed studies from Japan to the Netherlands have turned up some unfriendly bacteria in the tank water, including E. coli and the germ that causes Legionnaire's disease. U.S. researchers have tested it, too, with mixed results that suggest you don't know what you're drinking.

But we do -- because we tested it. We packed sample vials and took to the skies, hopping on 14 different flights everywhere from Atlanta to Sydney, Australia. On each, we collected water from the galley and lavatory taps, sealed them up and sent them to a lab for analysis. The results of our water-quality snapshot: a long list of microscopic life you don't want to drink, from Salmonella and Staphylococcus to tiny insect eggs. Worse, contamination was the rule, not the exception: Almost all of the bacteria levels were tens, sometimes hundreds, of times above U.S. government limits. "This water is not potable by any means," says Donald Hendrickson, the director of Hoosier Microbiology Laboratories in Muncie, Ind., which tested our samples."

For the gory details, here is a link to the article -- I think a paid subscription is required to view, however.,,SB...%5Fprimary%5Fhs

Going back to the Wall Street Journal article......

I have just told friend of mine (who is an Occupational Health and Safety expert) about the WSJ article on airline water, and she told me this story.

She was asked by some flight attendants on a national airline to take some swabs of the galley counters of a plane commonly used for long-haul operations. She did so, and submitted them for analysis, and they too showed unacceptable levels of bacterial contamination.

So it would appear that not only is the water on planes frequently contaminated, but that all the flat surfaces in the food serving areas may be as well.

Is anyone aware of any more systematic studies that have been done regarding the hygiene of food service areas on planes?

And which are the national regulatory authorities (if there are any) that have jurisdiction over food and water hygiene on airliners? Could it be that no government regulators are concerned with this matter?

It occurs to me that there may be a lot of passengers who may become sick from gastro-intestinal illnesses after a flight, but who may automatically imagine that it was something picked up before the flight.

Are flight crew subject to an above average numbers of tummy upsets? And if so, do they too invariably imagine that it came from a stopover rather than from the plane itself?

Meals, snacks etc. are all pre-packaged. They do not (or should not normally) come in contact with the countertops. Any bacteria found there is probably from the 'slop' when the finished meals are being stowed.

Any well-used public area will become dirty quite quickly. 200-odd passengers in an airliner cabin for several hours will leave an awful mess behind if a sterile yardstick is used. Cabins are cleaned, but they are not sterlized any more than a bus, train or public restroom. And they are a damn sight cleaner than many of your favourite restaurants, I'll warrant.
The Canadian regulations say the following:

"Every [airline] employer shall provide employees with potable water for drinking, personal washing and food preparation that, where reasonably practicable, meets the standards set out in the publication entitled Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, 1978, as amended in March 1990 and published under the authority of the Minister of National Health and Welfare."


Employers may comply with the regulation by telling flight crew to drink bottled water rather than water from the aircraft's tanks, but note that the regulation also dictates that potable water must be provided for hand-washing. Do the airlines that tell flight crew to drink bottled water also tell them to wash their hands in bottled water as well?

If airliner water is as contaminated as the Wall Street Journal article suggests it is, then what are the consequences of washing one's hands in this water? Sure the soap gets rid of bacteria, but then when you rinse the soap off your hands with that contaminated water and then accidentally lick your finger 2 minutes later, what are the risks?

"Modern" large aircraft have several, connected tanks that hold "potable water". The term has become more or less, generic. When you flush the lav, approximately 8 fl ozs of this " potable water" is rinsed into the bowl to further lubricate the teflon coating on the bowl and assist with the removal of...enough said. When you press the dispensing button on a water cooler, galley faucet, lavatory sink tap, this same water, under pressure from either the aircraft pneumatic system or a seperate compressor, is delivered from that very same storage tank. Whether it be boiled, or wrapped in a paper wrap bearing an inscription declaring it to have been " sanitised for my protection", the answer will be, no thank you. Almost every large outfit will have an inhouse schedule for disinfecting service equipment etc but you would be best to assume that it is rarely, if ever done whole heartedly or correctly. Those same larger carriers would also have a policy that the guy filling the potable water is not to be involved in toilet servicing on the same shift, Again, it may be prudent to say, " uh huh" to that one as well.
In the early 80's I remember wondering what the marks were on the inside of an " Air Scare" Classic lavatory bowl. All was revealed when at a later time I saw a steward breaking up the ice cubes that had refrozen into a solid lump, using an ice pick ( yes, once upon a time aircraft carried those ). I have NEVER had ice in a drink on an aircraft since that day. I kid you not. Stick to the bottled stuff.
Their time would have been better spent analyzing the crusts on the scabby pillow cases and blankets!

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