There is an increasing awareness that drinking water contributes to sporadic gastrointestinal illness (GI) in high income countries of the northern hemisphere. A literature search was conducted in order to review: (1) methods used for investigating the effects of public drinking water on GI; (2) evidence of possible dose–response relationship between sporadic GI and drinking water consumption; and (3) association between sporadic GI and factors affecting drinking water quality. Seventy-four articles were selected, key findings and information gaps were identified. In-home intervention studies have only been conducted in areas using surface water sources and intervention studies in communities supplied by ground water are therefore needed. Community-wide intervention studies may constitute a cost-effective alternative to in-home intervention studies. Proxy data that correlate with GI in the community can be used for detecting changes in the incidence of GI. Proxy data can, however, not be used for measuring the prevalence of illness. Local conditions affecting water safety may vary greatly, making direct comparisons between studies difficult unless sufficient knowledge about these conditions is acquired. Drinking water in high-income countries contributes to endemic levels of GI and there are public health benefits for further improvements of drinking water safety.