In this article the water quality specialists at Water Treatment Services look at the popular Red Tractor food assurance scheme, focussing on their standards for water quality, including on-farm sampling procedures and laboratory water testing.
What is the Red Tractor scheme?
In the British farming sector and beyond the Red Tractor logo carries a lot of weight, providing reassurance to purchasers of food and drink when buying from businesses that carry the logo. The tractor represents a well-recognised food assurance scheme that confirms the farm or agricultural business holding the logo has followed best practices and all relevant legislation for their business.
Water testing and Red Tractor food assurance
Water sampling for microbiology and chemical contamination forms a crucial part of the Red Tractor food assurance requirements. While mains water has gone through a process that ensures its safety, the same cannot be said of non-mains water supplies, especially as you move further off the beaten-track. Hygienic water is essential to the safety and wellbeing of all farm animals and humans. Water testing is a way of verifying its safety and needs to be done to meet food assurance requirements, to earn the prestigious Red Tractor logo.
In this article, we will go through some of the basic steps required to meet the farm assurance standards asked of those who seek the Red Tractor logo. However, we recommend you source in-depth and detailed information to follow prior to performing water sampling on your farm. There is much ground to cover; this article is intended as an overview of what is expected.
Testing water for microbiological and chemical content is a means of verifying its safety.
Map out your water systems prior to sampling
You should have an up to date map of the water systems on your farm or business premises to identify the layout before sampling of your water sources begins. This will help you work out the ideal points for taking water samples and how to adopt a regime for regular sampling in the future. Keep a copy of this “water” map and make sure you adjust it in future should there be any changes to the supply network.
Water sampling should be done at the entry point to the farm or business premises, with a possibility of one or more samples being required from other points where water safety may be critical. We’ll go into more detail about the entry point and its importance later in this article.
You should also identify which hazards (microbiological and chemical) the samples should be checked for. This may vary according to the animals on site and may require input from your vet. It’s vital to know this ahead of sampling to be sure you follow all Red Tractor guidance.
Know which laboratory will be used for the water testing
It is important that you know where your water samples will be tested for several reasons. Firstly, you need to obtain the relevant sample bottles from the laboratory. You’ll need at least three for the entry point, plus another bottle for each of the other testing areas you have identified prior to this.
Secondly, you must make sure the laboratory receives all samples within 24 hours of you taking them. Find out whether you can take them to the laboratory yourself or whether they can be couriered there. Not checking this aspect could lead to the samples arriving too late, in which case they could be out of specification and you’ll need to begin the process again.
Check you have the correct water sampling equipment before you begin testing
The water sampling for microbiology documentation provided by the Red Tractor assurance scheme contains a complete equipment list for water sampling, including the sterile sample bottles and all required labels. You should also have a standard submission form that needs to be attached to each water sample that will be sent to the laboratory.
Read through everything and check the sample bottles are indeed sterile before you begin the sampling. You’ll also need to prevent any contamination so it’s best to wear clean gloves while taking the water samples, and you should change these if you are testing water from more than one point in the system.
Where should you take water samples from?
Sampling should be done at the point where the water supply comes onto the farm or site. Of course, this may not be possible as it could come in via pipework. However, it is vital that you pick a sampling point as close to the farm boundary as you can. It’s possible to get a sampling point installed close to the boundary, otherwise a tap or other accessible outlet close to that point would be used.
When you are ready to take the sample, open the point for sampling and run the water for a minimum 30 seconds. This removes any dirt or debris from inside the sampling point. It will also provide water from inside the pipe to take for the sample. Never let the water fill to higher than 2cm from the top of the bottle, otherwise you will need to get rid of that sample and bottle and start again.
Since each sampling bottle contains tiny traces of a chemical preservative, it is necessary to put the cap back on before tipping it upside down to mix the preservative with the water sample. You should do this around three times to fully mix the contents. Remember to mark on your plan of the site water supply where you took the sample from and when – it’s best to use a unique reference number. You should also note the sampling point, unique reference, date etc. on the label that you put on the bottle. You should also complete the bottle label in full at this point to avoid any confusion later on.
What if the water supply does not allow you to place the bottle in the correct place for sampling?
There will be times when you cannot position the bottle underneath the flow of water to obtain a sample in the correct manner. A typical example of this is when you’re testing from a nudge bar drinker.
In this case, you can choose a good quality food grade bag (unused and taken from the original packet) to carefully funnel the water from the source into the bottle. Snip the corner off the bag first, using clean scissors, and then take the water from the drinker through the bag and into the bottle. You should let the water flow through the ‘funnel’ for a few seconds prior to taking the sample.
Other things to note before you begin testing your water supply
Firstly, make sure you go through the latest water sampling for microbiology (Red Tractor food assurance requirements) operating procedures to be sure you follow the correct steps. The document contains photos to guide you through what you should do and offers best practice guidance throughout.
Secondly, before taking samples from your non-mains water systems, be sure to conduct a risk assessment covering all aspects of the testing process. You will likely be around farm equipment and machinery, and any potential risks associated with this should be noted. You may also need to work with water supplied under pressure, which would involve other steps being taken to ensure safety.
Furthermore, the testing process could bring you into contact with chemicals, in which case a COSHH assessment must also be completed prior to starting the water sampling process.
Water quality testing for farms and food assurance standards
Water Treatment Services offer a comprehensive range of water quality testing and analysis solutions to support the farming, food and agricultural sectors throughout the UK. Our specialists can provide advice and support to help you determine if water quality standards are being met, and if not, what do about it.
With offices in London serving the South and South East England, Manchester (North West), Birmingham (Midlands), Bristol (South East England and Wales), Leeds (North and North East) and Glasgow (Scotland), supported by regional teams of specially trained technicians, in-field specialists and consultants we can offer professional, cost effective laboratory analysis and water reporting solutions across the whole of the UK and internationally.
Contact us today to learn how our water quality analysis and reporting solutions can help you.