Bottled water is the fastest growing drink choice in the United States, and Americans spend billions of dollars each year to buy it (Beverage Marketing Corporation, 2004) Some people drink bottled water as an alternative to other beverages; others drink it because they prefer its taste or think it is safer than their tap water.

Water Bottle

Previously, we have talked about several sources of the bottled water. The following terms are frequently used on bottled water labels to describe the water’s characteristics, sources, and methods of treatment. To learn about the quality of bottled water, begin by reading the label. In addition to the volume of water, any pertinent nutritional claims, and any contact information for the bottler, the label may include the type of bottled water, its source, and the way in which it is treated. For more specific information, you may need to contact the bottler directly.

  • Artesian water, ground water, spring water, well water - water from an underground aquifer which may or my not be treated. Well water and artesian water are tapped through a well. Spring water is collected as it flows to the surface or via a borehole. Ground water can be either.
  • Distilled water - steam from boiling water is recondensed and bottled. Distilling water kills microbes and removes water’s natural minerals, giving it a flat taste.
  • Drinking water – water intended for human consumption and sealed in bottles or other containers with no ingredients except that it may optionally contain safe and suitable disinfectants. Fluoride may be added within limitations set in the bottled water quality standards.
  • Mineral water – Ground water that naturally contains 250 or more parts per million of total dissolved solids.
  • Purified water - water that originates from any source but has been treated to meet the U.S. Pharmacopeia definition of purified water. Purified water is essentially free of all chemicals (it must not contain more than 10 parts per million of total dissolved solids), and may also be free of microbes if treated by distillation or reverse osmosis. Purified water may alternately be labeled according to how it is treated.
  • Sterile water - water that originates from any source, but has been treated to meet the U.S. Pharmacopeia standards for sterilization. Sterilized water is free from all microbes.

Bottled Water Label

Bottlers use standard identifiers, prescribed by FDA regulations, to describe their water, but the meanings may be different than you expect. These terms refer to both the geological sources of the water and the treatment methods applied to the water. The terms don’t necessarily describe the geographic location of the source or determine its quality. For instance, “spring water” can be collected at the point where water flows naturally to the earth’s surface or from a borehole that taps into the underground source. Other terms used on the label about the source, such as “glacier water” or “mountain water,” are not regulated standards of identity and may not indicate that the water is necessarily from a pristine area. Likewise, the term, “purified,” refers to processes that remove chemicals and pathogens. “Purified water” is not necessarily free of microbes – though it may be.

Bottlers must list on the label the type of bottled water (such as spring water, mineral water, or drinking water). If the water comes from a public water system and has not been treated to meet FDA’s definition of “purified” or “sterile” water, the label must state that the source is from a community water system. When you see Carbonated water, soda water, seltzer water, sparkling water, and tonic water, these are considered soft drinks and are not regulated as bottled water.

Neither EPA nor FDA certifies bottled water. Consumers can also check if the bottlers are members of International Bottled Water Association. The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) is a trade organization for water bottlers. IBWA members must meet the organization’s “model code” and are subject to annual inspections by an independent third party. Bottlers belonging to IBWA frequently indicate membership on their labels. Another organization is NSF International. Bottled water certified by NSF undergoes additional testing by unannounced annual plant inspections. NSF certifications mean that the bottler complies with all applicable FDA requirements, including good manufacturing practices.

Bottlers must include the name of the product and type of water; the name and address of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor; and the net content on their labels. The best way to know if the water you are drinking is safe and free from the contaminant(s) you are concerned about is to contact the bottler and ask for the latest testing results and whether the water has been treated to remove the contaminant.

Reading next