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Reduce Water Waste in Food Plants

Reduce water waste in food plants or risk paying the increased production costs…

Efficient and sustainable operations in food plants require a reduction in water usage. Water is vital in maintaining cleanliness and hygiene, crucial in personal use and food manufacturing. The food industry heavily relies on water for various operational practices. Therefore, businesses must incorporate alternative food processing methods that prioritize water recycling and reuse to achieve the financial and environmental benefits from reducing water waste in food plants. Implementing water-saving strategies can further reinforce these advantages.

The food and beverage processing industries can take advantage of a valuable opportunity to develop effective plans for sustainable water management by adopting Cleaner Production Methods (CPM). By doing so, they can reduce their environmental impact, cut costs, and enhance the value of their end products. CPM is a concept introduced by the United Nations to prevent and minimize the harmful effects of industrial activities on society and the environment.


Food companies must follow the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) program to effectively manage food risks and hazards. A HACCP plan’s primary goal is to spot deviations from acceptable limits and tolerances during production and take prompt corrective action.

The plan is divided into seven principles (1):

  1. Conduct hazard analysis of biological, chemical, or physical food hazards
  2. Determine critical control points
  3. Establish critical control limits, minimum cooking temperature, and time
  4. Establish a system to monitor control of critical control points
  5. Establish corrective actions
  6. Establish a procedure for verification to confirm the HACCP system is working effectively
  7. Establish documentation and record-keeping


Companies can improve their water network management and promote efficient water usage by implementing a HACCP Action Plan. This plan must be tailored to the company’s ability to self-monitor, verify, and regulate its practices for regular implementation, monitoring, corrective actions, and program checks. By adopting this strategy, companies can ensure adherence to the highest water quality and safety standards.

Growing water scarcity encourages efficient water usage

Two major factors are behind the industry’s changing attitude toward water use (2).

  1. Increasing prevalence of droughts throughout the U.S. and much of the world
  2. Growing consumer awareness of companies’ environmental stewardship


As climate change and droughts become increasingly concerning, businesses and consumers are becoming more mindful of water usage. This is particularly true for the food and beverage industry, where water is critical for various processes such as temperature control and sanitation. However, companies can adopt strategic measures, leverage advanced technologies, and modify their strategies to reduce water consumption. By identifying areas of inefficiency, the food and beverage sector can significantly decrease its water usage.

Key areas of inefficient water consumption

Inefficient water consumption in food and beverage plants can be attributed to three primary areas. These include Clean-in-Place (CIP), which utilizes 50% of non-product water; Heat Exchange, which accounts for roughly 16% of water usage; and various cleaning and utility demands, which comprise the remaining water consumption.

Water inefficiencies in CIP systems

CIP has gained popularity in the food and beverage industry for its ability to streamline cleaning and sanitization procedures, improve plant uptime, and enhance worker safety. Nonetheless, the CIP process has been observed to be inefficient and can result in significant water wastage. Water is commonly utilized for initial and final rinses and between caustic and acid cleaning agents used during the CIP sanitation process.

Water inefficiencies in cooling towers and miscellaneous food & beverage equipment

Cooling towers utilize the evaporative qualities of water to facilitate effective heat exchange. It should be noted that some water loss in cooling towers is inevitable due to evaporation, and this water cannot be retrieved. The presence of suspended and dissolved solids may also negatively impact the effectiveness of cooling tower water. Additionally, older equipment may need fixing, and maintenance practices, such as repairs, replacements, and upkeep, can increase water usage.

Identifying and reducing water consumption and waste

Businesses must thoroughly audit their water usage to promote sustainability and reduce water consumption. By analyzing water usage from start to finish, valuable insights can be gained about how water is used in their operations. This comprehensive approach is highly effective in optimizing water usage and minimizing waste.

Businesses can adopt a helpful strategy to identify and decrease water overconsumption not associated with manufacturing processes. Landscaping on the site can often be the culprit. However, businesses can quickly reduce water usage by implementing simple changes. One such solution is to use treated wastewater or grey water to irrigate plants on the site. Another effective option is to let the grass grow taller, which provides shade that lowers soil water evaporation and reduces the water needed. By adopting these strategies, businesses can proactively address water overconsumption and promote sustainable site practices.

Businesses can further enhance their water conservation efforts by identifying other water usage areas besides CIP, cooling, and utility, thus enabling them to optimize waste reduction and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Reducing water usage in food and beverage processing

Water has been viewed as a free resource in processing environments for a long time. However, attitudes towards water have changed due to the increasing drought conditions and water pollution crises. At the beginning of 2016, the world became aware of the high levels of lead in Flint, Michigan’s drinking water, which highlighted a disturbing social and political situation. This event underscored the significance of having access to quality water. Recent reports indicate that water shortages, floods, or droughts could pose the biggest threat to businesses in the near future.

Understanding water risks

The United Nations reported that 20% of the world’s population lives in areas with limited access to water, while an additional 25% face water scarcity. These figures emphasize the critical importance of water as a resource.

“Water is a finite resource that needs to be sustained for future generations,” states Rick Schreiber, national leader of BDO’s manufacturing and distribution practice. “As the population grows, resources [such as water] become more constrained.” (3)

Moreover, inefficient water use has the potential to damage the image of a food and beverage company. “Companies should be concerned about water conservation to ensure the ‘social license’ to operate their facility remains intact,” Harvey says. “Water is a valuable resource, and its scarcity in some regions may cause communities to scrutinize how it is being used.” (3)

Conversely, taking steps to reduce a company’s water footprint could help build confidence in the company and strengthen its relationship with the local community, Harvey adds.

Technologies and equipment

Cleaning in food and beverage factories can use up to 60% of the water consumed. Cleaning includes tasks like equipment, floor, exterior, and conveyor cleaning. Other options to reduce water usage during cleaning include vacuum and push systems instead of water brooms or high-pressure hoses that can push debris into the drains.

A highly effective way to clean equipment such as tanks or kettles is by using dry ice. When exposed to air, dry ice evaporates into a gas, making it perfect for thoroughly cleaning equipment without leaving any moisture behind.

Clean-in-place (CIP) systems are a highly efficient solution to avoid time-consuming teardowns and rebuilds of equipment. Although these systems consume more water and energy, optimizing CIP systems can significantly reduce water usage and positively impact the environment.

Modernizing the technology utilized in a CIP system holds significant promise for conserving resources and funds. By shifting from outdated timing-based systems to those relying on the concentration and timing of water and detergent usage, CIP can be further optimized. Additionally, upgrading CIP systems to collect and recycle final rinse water for the initial rinse or flush before implementing the next round of cleaner or sanitizer is a simple and uncomplicated procedure.

It is vital to have efficient and affordable technological solutions for greater water reuse. A comprehensive water and wastewater system is an excellent option for closing the water cycle and producing valuable byproducts like biofuels or nitrogen- and phosphorus-rich fertilizers. Cooling towers are ideal for implementing such systems, as the evaporated water leaves behind particles from the air and increasingly concentrated minerals, salts, or ions. Advanced wastewater treatment technologies, like membrane bioreactor (MBR) systems, can effectively eliminate solid materials, resulting in a clear and disinfected product effluent.

Benefits of reducing water waste in food plants

Reducing water waste and energy consumption in food plants while improving effluent operations is a cost-effective measure that enhances the bottom line.

Reducing waste in manufacturing facilities is crucial today, but some facilities may not have sustainability or environmental concerns as their primary motivation. Instead, many manufacturers prioritize their bottom line when taking steps to decrease waste and consumption.

Companies prioritizing sustainability in their manufacturing processes tend to operate more cost-effectively and environmentally friendly by reducing waste and optimizing resource use.

Water is a valuable resource that we often end up paying for twice. The first is when it is supplied to the manufacturing facility, and the second is when it is discharged as effluent and sent for water treatment. Unfortunately, water rate increases in many areas of the country have surpassed electricity. Furthermore, sewer costs can be three times the cost of water in some areas.

Reducing water consumption for manufacturers can bring about direct cost savings and other potential savings. Typically, water is delivered to a manufacturing facility by a water provider and then needs to be pumped to different areas of the plant. The manufacturer is responsible for paying for this process through higher utility bills. However, if less water is wasted and more water is used efficiently, water pumped to different facility areas can be reduced. This can help reduce energy costs, resulting in additional savings for the manufacturer.

How much water are we talking about?

It is vital to know how much water is used in U.S. manufacturing facilities and how it is utilized. (4)

  • In 2015, the United States Geological Survey determined that industrial withdrawals – the amount of water withdrawn for use in industrial and manufacturing locations – was 14,800 Mgal/d. A Mgal/d refers to “one million gallons of water per day.” This means about 1.5 billion gallons of water is consumed by industry every day.*
  • Much of this water is “groundwater,” referring to aquifers. Many aquifers are drying up around the country. These aquifers took centuries to fill with water, which tells us that once dried up, their use as a water resource in the future will be very limited.
  • States using the most water for industrial purposes include Louisiana, Indiana, Texas, and California.
  • Industrial and manufacturing facilities use water for fabricating, processing, washing, diluting, cooling, transporting products, and sanitation needs within the manufacturing facility.
  • Facilities have additional water use and storage in restroom, office, and kitchen areas. facility.


The United States Geological Survey only takes surveys on water-related issues every five years. This is their latest research.

Reducing consumption

To reduce water consumption in manufacturing, we must use it more efficiently. Here are some critical steps we can take: (4)

    1. Measure and monitor
    2. Installation of sub-meters to record data about how much water is being used and discharged by facility per day/week/year in all areas
    3. Form a water “minimization team”
    4. Help identify where water use can be reduced
    5. Set water reduction goal (i.e., reduce water consumption by 10% per year)
    6. Focus on “low-hanging” fruit (fixing water leaks, replacing valves on hoses, etc.)
    7. Fix or replace big water-consuming items (i.e., restroom fixtures more than 5-7 years old should consider replacing with newer, more water-efficient systems that use less water)
    8. Begin water “training”
    9. Add water training program in addition to safety training program for all employees. This will help ensure all employees are taught to use water more responsibly and that saving water is part of the company culture. List use water as KPI.

Contact us for more information on any of these steps or to schedule a facility inspection or training.

Basics of water reuse

Water reuse, also known as water recycling or reclamation, involves reclaiming water from various sources and treating it for reuse in beneficial ways such as agriculture and irrigation, potable water supplies, groundwater replenishment, industrial processes, and environmental restoration. It provides alternative water supplies that enhance water security, sustainability, and resilience and helps to reduce the strain on existing water resources.

  • Unplanned
  • Planned


Unplanned water reuse happens when a significant proportion of a water source has been used before. One example of unplanned water reuse is when communities obtain water from rivers like the Colorado and Mississippi Rivers that receive treated wastewater from upstream communities.

Planned water reuse involves using recycled water for agricultural and landscape irrigation, industrial processes, potable water, and groundwater management.

Types of water reuse

Water is a precious resource, and there are several sources from which water can be reused effectively. These sources include municipal wastewater, industry process and cooling water, stormwater, agriculture runoff, and return flows, and produced water from natural resource extraction activities. (5) The water from each source is treated to meet specific “fit-for-purpose specifications” required for subsequent use. These specifications ensure that the water is of the required quality to safeguard public health, protect the environment, or meet specific user needs.

For instance, if reclaimed water is to be used for crop irrigation, it must be of sufficient quality to avoid harm to plants and soils, maintain food safety, and protect the health of farm workers. If water is to be used in areas with a higher risk of human exposure, it may require more treatment.

Uses for recycled water

reduce waste water in food plants

Examples of water sources and use applications

Examples of water sources and use applications

  • Irrigation for agriculture
  • Irrigation for landscaping such as parks, rights-of-ways, and golf courses
  • Municipal water supply
  • Process water for power plants, refineries, mills, and factories
  • Indoor uses such as toilet flushing
  • Dust control or surface cleaning of roads, construction sites, and other trafficked areas
  • Concrete mixing and other construction processes
  • Supplying artificial lakes and inland or coastal aquifers
  • Environmental restoration


Water reuse regulations in the United States

It should be noted that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not mandate or limit any specific type of water reuse. Generally, the states manage and develop water resources and have the primary regulatory authority. Some states have implemented specific programs to address reuse, while others have integrated water reuse into existing programs. The EPA, state, tribal, and local governments work under the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act to safeguard the quality of drinking water sources, community drinking water, and water bodies such as rivers and lakes. These two acts provide a framework for states to manage, regulate, and oversee water reuse as they deem appropriate.

Water scarcity is a pressing global issue that directly impacts all aspects of food production. Water is a crucial ingredient in food production and is used for various unit operations such as sanitizing, cooking, cooling, and cleaning. Additionally, water is used as a conveyor to transport food materials throughout production and as a cleaning agent to sanitize production equipment. (6)

There are three main strategies to reduce freshwater consumption and wastewater generation: (6)

  1. Water saving through the development of unit operations that use less water
  2. Reducing uncontrolled water use during processing and cleaning (e.g., repairing leaks, reducing water pressure in some areas of the site, using spray nozzles for cleaning, etc.)
  3. Recycling or reuse of water within the food processing plant, either directly or following reconditioning. An assessment of water usage and characteristics at the different process steps of a food plant helps select potential water sources for reuse


Food processing water has traditionally been limited to non-food contact and cleaning uses. These include cooling operations, general facility cleaning (using relatively “clean” water for initial floor scrub down), or using nitrogen-rich waters to irrigate green spaces. Another common application in many countries is to use it for agricultural irrigation.

Ensuring that the selected option complies with legal requirements and meets quality and safety standards is essential when considering water reuse or recycling. It is vital to conduct a hazard analysis and risk assessment to determine the suitability of a particular water reuse application. Furthermore, if you recycle reconditioned water, you must continuously monitor the efficiency of the treatment to ensure optimal performance.

Legal requirements

In the past, regulations set by public health authorities have been seen as a hindrance to the widespread adoption of water reuse in the food industry. However, in recent years, regulators have started to change their views. The Committee on Food Hygiene of the Codex Alimentarius Commission has released draft guidelines on safely reusing processing water in food plants. These guidelines acknowledge that water should be reconditioned to a safe and appropriate level for its intended use but that it does not necessarily need to be reconditioned to the level of drinking water in many cases. However, if the reused water is designed to be incorporated into a food product, it must meet at least the microbiological and, where necessary, chemical requirements for drinking water.

Quality considerations

Regarding food processing, the water used can contain various substances. This is essential to consider whether the water will be recycled or reused. Before deciding whether or not the recovered water is suitable for use in a food operation, it is crucial to take into account the quality of water that is needed for that particular operation, the quality of the water that has already been used, the method used for recovery and distribution, and the ability to recondition the water to the required level. Knowing the basic requirements for water quality in a specific process is also essential to use it without any negative impact on the finished product.

Monitoring the principal physical, chemical, and microbiological parameters is crucial to ensure the quality and safety of all reused water. It is preferable to carry out monitoring and testing online. The frequency of monitoring and testing depends on the source and prior condition of the water, as well as the intended reuse. More frequent monitoring is required for more critical applications, such as using it as a product ingredient, than for less critical uses, such as boiler feed water.

Ensuring the microbiological safety of water to be reused is crucial for the food industry. It is advisable to carry out microbiological tests at various stages of the production process to identify microbial hazards associated with specific operations and establish appropriate monitoring mechanisms.

Safety – hazard analysis and risk assessment

The Codex Alimentarius draft guidelines state that reuse water needs to be safe for its intended use and should not threaten the product’s safety by introducing chemical, microbiological, or physical contaminants that can harm the consumer’s health. Therefore, assessing the potential hazards of microbiological, chemical, and physical contamination that can occur in potable water after its first use in a food processing operation is essential. This assessment will help determine the reconditioning required to reuse the water for a second food processing operation.

Campden BRI has recently released a risk assessment protocol based on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles to evaluate the risks and hazards associated with water after its first use. Using a well-documented HACCP approach for assessing water reuse options in food manufacturing facilities can aid in providing supporting evidence and documentation to the Competent Authority and customers, ensuring the safe reuse of water.

Treatment technologies for water reconditioning

Water treatment technologies can be categorized into preliminary, primary, secondary, and advanced tertiary treatments. Selecting an appropriate treatment system is one of the biggest challenges when supplying water of the necessary quality for reuse. The primary goal of most systems is to eliminate physical, chemical, and microbiological hazards while reducing pathogenic and spoilage organisms to acceptable levels and preventing their subsequent growth. To accomplish this, any water treatment system should be designed based on the types of contaminants the water may have acquired from its first use, and the chosen technologies should provide the appropriate level of reconditioning for the intended water reuse.


Ensuring the removal or reduction of pathogens is extremely important when treating water for food production. Chemical disinfection, which involves using oxidizing agents, such as Sanitier Concentrate, Security Floor® Sanitizer, or ozone, is one method used to reduce the number of microorganisms present. Ozonation is an alternative method that functions similarly to chlorine disinfection but avoids the risk of introducing chlorinated organic compounds into wastewater. Water treated with chemical disinfectants remains protected against further contamination if a specific disinfectant concentration is maintained. Other physical disinfection methods include heat treatment, membrane filtration (including R.O.), and ultraviolet light treatment. Ultraviolet disinfection is particularly effective for low-concentration wastewater and high-concentration streams with high clarity.


Water scarcity is a growing concern worldwide, highlighting the need to implement water reuse systems in the food industry. There is enormous potential for water reuse and to reduce water waste in food manufacturing. Current regulations allow the use of recycled or reconditioned water as long as it does not compromise product safety. A risk assessment protocol based on HACCP should be followed to ensure that all hazards, including microbiological, chemical, and physical, are considered when designing water reuse applications. Proper documentation of the assessment can support a case to the competent authority. Seeking advice from industry experts or water treatment companies at all stages of designing a water reuse or recycling system for a food processing plant is recommended.

Regardless of current and predicted changes, the intrinsic value of water to humanity necessitates utmost care to enable future access to clean water. Contact DeVere for a comprehensive facility analysis and recommendations on how to reduce water use.

Water is a vital resource for the food industry, and its efficient use is crucial. Despite many techniques being developed to improve water usage, much remains to be done. Given the increasing water scarcity caused by pollution, environmental degradation, and climate change, food industry managers must adopt cleaner production methods. Such methods can mitigate water scarcity during the production and processing of food. Although many industries have adopted more hygienic production methods, further research and technology adoption grant investments can lead to more significant progress. The techniques presented provide proposals and suggestions that can help the food and beverage industry reduce water waste and the production of effluents, thereby reducing pollution. Such measures can reduce the environmental impact while decreasing costs and adding value to the final product.


Bailone, R.L., Borra, R.C., Fukushima, H.C.S. et al. Water reuse in the food industry. Discover Food 2, 5 (2022).

Newton, E. (2021, October 29). Retrieved from Water Online:

Schug, D. (2016, April 18). Food Engineering Magazine. Retrieved from Food Engineering:

Author, G. (2018, September 11). Environment + Energy Leader. Retrieved from Environmental Leader:

EPA, U. (2023, May 17). Water Reuse: Basic information about water reuse. Retrieved from United States Environmental Protection Agency:

Fendler, A. (2013, January 11). New Food. Retrieved from New Food Magazine:


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