A man carrying mineral water can for distribution in BurDubai. Image Credit: Devadasan/Gulfnews Archives

Dubai: How many times can your five-gallon water bottles be refilled? Only 33 times, according to Dubai Municipality.

But how do you know your water supplier has complied with this rule? A new smart labelling and tracking system will soon help consumers and inspectors in Dubai check the safety of the five-gallon water bottles and make sure they do not cross the limit for refilling.

The Dubai Municipality on Monday signed an agreement with SICPA, a Swiss company that will provide smart solutions, including mobile applications through which consumers and inspectors can verify details of these water bottles.

Has your 5-gallon water bottle been filled more than 33 times? Watch Gulf News Senior Reporter Sajila Saseendran explains how to check.

“Through this solution we will be able to trace bottled water and monitor the safety of both the container and the contents by means of smart labelling and laser engraving,” Hussain Nasser Lootah, director-general of Dubai Municipality, said after signing the agreement with Philippe Amon, chairman and CEO of SICPA, on Monday.

“This method will enable us to know how many times the bottle has been used as well as analyse different testing parameters for the water… We are hopeful that this system will be a turning point in our local and national smart food inspection and monitoring efforts,” he said.

The smart track and trace technology called SICPATRACE will empower consumers to scan the bottles themselves to confirm their origin, other product information and detect uncertified products. Once the app is launched, customers will be able to read product details, company name, brand name and when the bottle was filled the last time.

Inspectors will be able to read additional information such as number of refills, expiry date, pH value, and other technical parameters for the water and the bottle.

Khalid Mohammad Sherif Al Awadhi, director of the Food Safety Department at the municipality, said the new smart labels will be made mandatory for 36 companies producing five-gallon water bottles in Dubai. In the next phase, it will be expanded to other bottled water companies that sell their products in Dubai.

According to Al Awadhi, water companies will be allowed to refill a five-gallon bottle only 33 times.

Studies have found that these bottles can be safely refilled 35 times due to the climatic conditions here. Officials have decided to limit it to 33 times to ensure better safety of the drinking water. Reusing the polycarbonate plastic bottles above the permitted limit can harm people as it releases carcinogenic and endocrine disruptive compounds in water.

Essam Sharaf, head of Food Studies and Systems Section, said the department will introduce the smart label in April and will give a grace period for the companies to implement it. The mobile app for customers will be launched after the implementation of the system. Inspectors will be provided with a special device to read additional information about the product.

Ameenah Ahmad Mohammad, director of Dubai Accreditation Centre under the municipality, said Dubai will be the first place, along with Turkey, to introduce this smart technology.

“First thing you can be sure is that the water is from the original company. There have been cases when some companies refill the bottles of others and sell them. With this system, you can make sure that it came from the factory of the original company. By checking the date of refilling you can find out if water has crossed its shelf life of six months,” said Mohammad.

“The laser engraving in the smart labels rejects water bottles that have crossed the permitted number of refills during the water filling procedure in the production line. If they manually fill it and send it to the market, inspectors can verify it by reading the smart label and reject it and fine the violators,” she explained.

A SICPA representative said the app, which will be launched after the implementation of the smart labelling system in the market, will enable consumers to verify if the product is recalled and also to report any potential malpractice in smart labelling system to Dubai Municipality.