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Mayanot Eden has halted production of its Mey Eden bottled water, again, after routine tests on Tuesday at its spring on the Golan Heights found excessive levels of E. coli bacteria. The company warns that unless the problem is solved soon, shortages at stores could develop in about a week It has hired a second public-relations company.BBDO Issue Management to handle the crisis.

The company immediately began looking into the problem in coordination with the Health Ministry, Mayanot Eden said yesterday. The company and the ministry do not yet know what caused the contamination.

The company's products in stores and those already sold - bottles and jugs - are safe, Mayanot Eden said. All had passed quality control, it said.

Mayanot Eden will resume production only after the spring water meets all of the necessary standards, it said. The company stressed that its production and distribution in Europe are unaffected, as the problem is only at its Golan Heights spring.

Meanwhile, because of the perennial water crisis in Israel and the deteriorating quality of spring water, the Health Ministry has decided to include water from wells and not only springs in its definition of mineral water.

Last month a ministry committee recommended the changes due to the deterioration in the quality of the springs.

A year and a half ago the ministry ordered the mineral water companies to start filtering spring water.

Mayanot Eden says it can't yet estimate the financial implications of its shutdown.

In February 2009, polluted springs forced both Mey Eden and Neviot bottled water to shut down production; the stoppage lasted two weeks until the Health Ministry approved restarting production. That incident cost Mayanot Eden some NIS 22-25 million in revenues, and a NIS 10 million hit to cash flow.

A ministry survey from May 2009 found that, on average, Israelis drink three cups of tap water a day and four cups of mineral water., on top of other beverages.

Rivals such as Tempo are stepping up production to fill the shortfall created by Mayanot Eden's travails.