Advancements in Water Quality Testing: From Coliforms to Escherichia coli
February 1, 2024 by
Abdi Nasser


Water quality testing has undergone significant advancements over the years. In the past, assessments were primarily based on the presence of coliform bacteria, which are commonly found in various environmental sources, including water, soil, and vegetation. Coliforms, such as total and faecal coliforms, were chosen as markers due to their widespread occurrence and ease of cultivation. While these bacteria are not typically harmful, their presence indicates the potential existence of other pathogenic organisms of faecal origin. However, with evolving technologies, contemporary water quality tests now focus on a more specific indicator – Escherichia coli (E. coli).

The Significance of E. coli:

Escherichia coli, a member of the faecal coliform group, has become a crucial marker for faecal contamination in water. As it is predominantly found in the faeces of warm-blooded animals, its presence serves as a reliable indicator of recent contamination. Unlike general coliforms, E. coli is specifically targeted in modern water quality assessments due to its direct correlation with potential health risks.

Analyzing Drinking Water:

Drinking water undergoes thorough analysis to determine various parameters, including the concentration of E. coli. The presence of this bacteria above specified levels can indicate the potential contamination of water sources with harmful pathogens. Monitoring E. coli levels in drinking water is crucial for ensuring the safety of public health.

Wastewater Treatment and Recycling:

Similarly, treated wastewater that is recycled for irrigation or discharged into surface waters must meet stringent E. coli concentration standards to be deemed safe. The monitoring of E. coli levels in recycled wastewater ensures that potential contaminants have been effectively removed during the treatment process, minimizing environmental and public health risks.

Testing Methodologies:

Modern water quality testing methods, as outlined by standards such as ISO 9308-1:2014, involve intricate processes. Filtration is a key step, with a minimum sample volume filtered to ensure accurate results. The presumptive coliform count involves identifying colonies that are pink/red in color, followed by confirmation through tests for oxidase negativity and subcultures on Tryptone Soy Agar.

For E. coli, the ß-galactosidase and ß-glucuronidase tests play a crucial role. Colonies exhibiting dark blue/violet colors indicate the presence of E. coli. The presumptive isolation process involves placing the membrane on Coliform Chromogenic Agar (CCA) and incubating at specific temperatures for a defined period.


In conclusion, the evolution of water quality testing from generic coliforms to specific markers like Escherichia coli represents a significant stride in ensuring the safety of water sources. The meticulous testing methodologies outlined by international standards enable the accurate detection of potential contaminants, safeguarding both public health and the environment. As technologies continue to advance, the precision and efficiency of water quality testing will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in sustainable water management practices.

Condalab 1029 - T.S.C. Agar Base (Tryptose Sulfite Cycloserine) ISO 500 grams (minimum order quantity of 4 units)

Condalab 2080 | Chromogenic Coliforms Agar (CCA) ISO 500grams

Condalab 1138 - Tryptose Soy Agar ISO 500grams (minimun order quantity of 5 units)

Condalab 1029 - T.S.C. Agar Base (Tryptose Sulfite Cycloserine) ISO 500 grams (minimum order quantity of 4 units)

Condalab 6020 - Clostridium Perfringens Supplement (TSC) Pack of 10 vials for 500 ml/each (minimum order quantity of 2 units)

Condalab 1104 - Columbia Agar Base EP/USP/ISO 500grams (minimum order quantity of 4 units) 

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