Nutrition Column – Consumers are Thirsty for Bottled Water

With projected sales estimated to reach 6.8 billion gallons this year, it’s obvious that Americans like their bottled water. When shopping at any supermarket or convenience store today, you’re likely to find dozens of brands and types of bottled water from which to choose.

According to consumer research, some people prefer bottled water for its taste, while others cite its convenience and availability. Still other people say they select bottled water for health reasons because it doesn’t contain calories, caffeine or alcohol. Whatever the reason, the bottled water industry has undergone explosive growth for more than a decade. It is anticipated that within the next few years, bottled water will become second only to soda as America’s favorite beverage.

Any bottled water sold across state lines is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. These regulations address the safety and quality of bottled water as well as ensure accuracy in labeling practices. Terms listed on bottled water labels such as "spring water" and "artesian well water" are defined legally. According to the FDA, product definitions for bottled water are:

– Artesian well water: Bottled water from a well that taps an aquifer (a water-bearing underground layer of rock or sand). When tapped, the pressure in the aquifer, commonly called artesian pressure, drives the water above the level of the aquifer.

– Drinking water: Bottled water from an approved source that meets state and federal standards and has gone through minimal filtration and disinfection.

– Mineral water: Water from an underground source that contains a minimum of 250 parts per million total dissolved solids, or minerals. Minerals must be present naturally, not added later.

– Sparkling water:  Water with a "fizz" that contains carbon dioxide naturally or as an added element. If carbon dioxide is added, the water can contain no more CO2 than the amount present when the water originally emerged from its source.

– Spring water: Water that flows naturally to the earth’s surface from an underground source. Spring water must be collected only at the spring or through a bored hole that taps the underground source feeding the spring. If collected using external force, the water must have the same composition and quality as the water that flows naturally to the surface.

– Well water:  Water collected from a hole bored or drilled into the ground that taps into an aquifer.

Because both bottled water and tap water must meet strict federal and state regulations for safety and quality, the choice of which to drink generally comes down to preference. However, people who drink mostly bottled water, and especially people with children, should be aware that bottled water often does not have fluoride added to it. In many communities, fluoride is added to drinking water as a pubic health measure to help prevent tooth decay. It is a good idea to notify your child’s dentist if you do rely on bottled water in case supplemental fluoride may be recommended. Another option is to look for bottled water that has been fluoridated.

The FDA has not established a shelf life for bottled water. The International Bottled Water Association advises consumers to store bottled water at room temperature (or cooler), out of direct sunlight and away from solvents and chemicals such as gasoline, paint thinners and dry cleaning chemicals. The association maintains that bottled water can be used indefinitely if stored properly.

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by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension