U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


Date of this Version



Published in International Journal of Food Microbiology 92 (2004) 265– 274. doi:10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2003.08.017


While the literature documents the universal occurrence of heterotrophic plate count (HPC) bacteria in soils, foods, air, and all sources of water, there is a lingering question as to whether this group of organisms may signal an increased health risk when elevated populations are present in drinking water. This paper reviews the relevant literature on HPC bacteria in drinking water, the lack of clinical evidence that elevated populations or specific genera within the HPC flora pose an increased health risk to any segment of the population, and the appropriate uses of HPC data as a tool to monitor drinking water quality changes following treatment. It finds no evidence to support health-based regulations of HPC concentrations.