Coliform Bacteria and Regulatory Limits

Written by petra wakefield
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Coliform bacteria are naturally present in the environment; they are not usually harmful, but they are often used in testing for water contamination. This is because coliform bacteria thrive under the same conditions as certain harmful organisms. But according to the Washington State Department of Health, testing for coliform bacteria is simpler and more cost-effective.

Drinking Water

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Total Coliform Rule (TCR), all public water systems are required to test for total coliform bacteria. The frequency of testing depends upon the number of people who receive water from the system. If any coliform bacteria are found, the water supplier is required to perform further testing to ensure water safety.

Recreational Waters

The EPA also sets limits on coliform bacteria in recreational waters, which include beach areas of lakes and oceans. According to the EPA's "Quality Criteria for Water," the maximum average E. coli concentration for recreational waters is 126 per ml. E. coli is used for testing because it is a common coliform bacteria in natural water bodies.


The Food and Drug Administration requires that pasteurised grade "A" milk and milk products contain no more than 10 coliform bacteria per ml. For condensed or dry milk, the limit is 10 coliform bacteria per gram.

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