Is there really a difference between Bottled Water and Tap Water?Bottled water is generally drawn from protected sources. You could drink directly from the spring without further purification (although extra steps are taken to ensure the water has no lurking impurities). Other sources require more thorough processing. In the case of raw tap water, the purity of the source is often in question. Due to the uncertainties of impurities in raw tap water, you might find metals, herbicides and pesticides, trihalomethanes (created when organics interact with chlorine usually used to treat tap water), and microscopic parasites such as cryptosporidium.
VolumeMunicipal water systems generally do a good job processing drinking water, the very volumes of water that they must process every day—millions of gallons—makes it cost-prohibitive and impractical for theme to use multiple barrier systems. Also, after tap water is processed, it still has to travel through pipes (sometimes 5 to 10 miles or more—some as old as 100 years!) to reach the user.
RegulationTap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while bottled water is regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Since bottled water is considered a food, it must meet the stricter standards associated with food, including recalls. Bottled water also must meet strict state regulations. If tap water has a problem, there is no way to recall it! The decision between tap water and bottled water simply comes down to personal preference and the degree to which you want to protect the health of you and your family.
How long can I store bottled water?If stored properly, water in 3 and 5-gallon containers has a shelf life of two years. Smaller containers, 1 gallon and 2.5 gallon bottles, are made with a thinner grade of plastic than larger bottles and have an optimal shelf life of about 6 months (but remain potable for two years). They have a shorter shelf life because they are more permeable to outside odors. The key is how water is stored.
What are the different types of bottled water?Bottled water is defined by the FDA as water that is intended for human consumption and is sealed in bottles or other containers with no added ingredients (except that it may optionally contain fluoride or flavor essences that are less than 1% by weight and do not contain sweeteners). There are several types of bottled water, depending upon the source of the water. The FDA has established Standards of Identity for bottled water, which are uniform definitions applying to all bottled water in the U.S., regardless of where the water is purchased. According to the American Plastics Council, “Polycarbonate plastics, which are used in some baby bottles and kitchen storage containers, are safe and convenient for the preparation and storage of all types of foods and beverages. Recent news reports have questioned the safety of bisphenol A (BPA), a raw material used in polycarbonate plastics. Most recently, the May 1999 edition of Consumer Reports drew unfounded and irresponsible conclusions about the safety of polycarbonate baby bottles. However, based on a wealth of safety tests, the FDA permits the use of BPA in polycarbonate packaging for all types of food.”
What types of contaminants are found in bottled water?None. The Food and Drug Administration has strict standards concerning water content. Regular testing is mandated by the FDA for bottled water. If any were found, the water would be recalled.
Is bottled water regulated?The bottled water industry is regulated on three levels: federal, state and trade association. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, coupled with state and industry standards, offer consumers assurance that the bottled water they purchase is stringently regulated, tested and of the highest quality. The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) has been a long-standing proponent of additional federal regulations for bottled water and is active at all levels of the local, state and federal government assisting in the development of such regulations.
Federal RegulationsBottled water is regulated as a food product by the FDA. Bottled water companies must adhere to the FDA’s Quality Standards, Standards of Identity (Labeling Regulations) and Good Manufacturing Practices.
Quality Standards: All bottled water products must comply with the FDA’s Quality Standards in Section 165.110(b) of Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). These standards, along with the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practices, ensure the safety of all bottled water products from production to packaging to consumption.
Standards of Identity (Labeling Regulations): FDA’s labeling rules for bottled water establish standards of identity and standardized definitions for terms found on bottled water labels such as “artesian,” “distilled,” “drinking,” “mineral,” “purified,” “sparkling” and “spring”. Certain water types, such as seltzer, soda water and tonic water are considered soft drinks; therefore, they are excluded from these regulations.
Good Manufacturing Practices: Bottled water is subject to both general food Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and GMPs specific to bottled water processing and bottling. General food GMPs govern such areas as plant and ground maintenance, sanitary maintenance of buildings and fixtures, and sanitary facilities, including water supply, plumbing and sewage disposal. Bottled water GMPs provide detailed regulations governing plant construction and design, sanitary facilities and operations, equipment design and construction, production and process controls specific to the production and processing of bottled drinking water, and record keeping.
State StandardsIn addition to FDA’s extensive regulatory requirements, the bottled water industry is subject to state regulatory requirements as well.
Inspections: A significant responsibility of the states is inspecting, sampling, analyzing and approving sources of water. Under the federal GMPs, only approved sources of water can be used to supply a bottling plant.
Laboratory Certification: Another area in which some states have important responsibilities that complement federal regulation is the certification of testing laboratories. As with any food establishment, the states perform unannounced plant inspections, and some states perform annual inspections.
IBWA StandardsCompanies that produce bottled water may also be subject to the standards of the IBWA (the International Bottle Water Association). If a water company is a member of this organization, it must comply with the following standards.
Third-party Inspections: As a condition of membership, bottlers must submit to an annual, unannounced plant inspection administered by an independent, internationally recognized third-party inspection organization. This inspection audits quality and testing records; reviews all areas of plant operation from source through finished product; and checks compliance with FDA Quality Standards, Good Manufacturing Practices and any state regulations.
IBWA Model Code: IBWA has established a quality assurance program, a strict set of standards called the Model Code. The Model Code establishes tougher requirements than federal and state authorities.