In many countries around the world people can’t drink tap water because its chemical and physical properties make it unsafe for consumption. As it’s becoming increasingly dangerous to drink tap water, the bottled water industry is thriving. However, people have concerns about the safety of bottled water as well. Judging by the number of questions that the the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) receives yearly about how bottled water is regulated, tested and inspected, the issue of water safety is a serious matter both for producers and consumers. That is not surprising, since water is not only basic to our survival, but bottled water is also the second most popular beverage in the US. The first place is reserved for carbonated soft drinks.
In the US there are two different agencies that regulate and control the quality of water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in charge of regulating public drinking water, and the FDA is in charge of the bottled water control. Though the FDA couldn’t possibly inspect every single water bottle that appears in stores across the United States, it sets strict rules that bottled water producers need to adhere to. These regulations fall under Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs) and they specify that:
- The producers of bottled water need to follow sanitary conditions when processing, bottling, and transporting their products.
- They have to protect their water sources from bacteria, chemicals, contaminants, etc.
- They have to use quality control processes, and conduct regular water testings to ensure that both the source water and the product are free from bacteria, chemicals, and microbiological and radiological contaminants at all times.
Producers can expect government inspectors to show up and check their product, so they are required to keep water source approval and testing records as proof of adhering to water safety standards.
Strict Regulations for Standard of Identity Labeling
Bottled water labeling is regulated with other food products whose quality and labeling are regulated by the FDA. According to their standards of identity, there are several different types of water and they can be labeled as:
- Bottled water
- Drinking water
- Artesian water
- Ground water
- Mineral water
- Sparkling bottled water
- Spring water
- Sterilized water
- Purified water
- Well water
In order to bear any of these labels, water products must meet strict standard of identity definitions provided by the FDA. For example, if a product is labeled “spring water”, it has to come from a water flowing to the surface from an underground formation, it has to be collected at the spring, it has to be a natural (not artificial) force that causes the water to spring to the surface, and so on. If any condition from the standard of identity is not met, the product will be deemed misbranded and the producer could be penalized. All definitions and detailed guidelines for standard of identity labeling can be viewed here.
Other types of water such as carbonated, soda, or seltzer belong to the soft drinks category.
Standard of Quality for Bottled Water
The extent of detailed instructions for observing the standard of water quality and properly labeling water bottles to accurately present information is such that it should certainly appease suspicious bottled water consumers.
Among many other specific requirements and details, the FDA website provides the following information:
- how to label water bottles that contain water from the community water system
- clear specifications for labeling water that contains either low or high mineral content
- an obligatory label that marks water suitable for feeding infants but is not commercially sterile
- details about analyses conducted to determine compliance with regulations for physical and chemical water quality (they are described in “Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater” published by the American Public Health Association)
- specific requirements regarding the amount of chloride, iron, manganese, phenols, total dissolved solids, zinc
- labeling of water that has added fluoride, or water that doesn’t have added fluoride
- levels of pesticides and other synthetic organic chemicals that the FDA allows
- specifications for measuring the following in bottled water and including their allowed amount: barium, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, copper, cyanide, lead, mercury, selenium, nickel, arsenic
- and many more pieces of information.
The possibility that dangerous substances such as arsenic or mercury might be lurking in our drinking water is enough to alarm people and make them want to know everything about the bottled water they are buying. Fortunately, the FDA limits the allowed amount of potentially hazardous substances in water and has a very strict and detailed standard of quality, which can put consumers at rest. In fact, only a few other food products that are regulated by the FDA have such a detailed standard of quality as bottled water.
Other Water Bottle Labeling Requirements
Just like other packaged food product stickers, water bottle labels need to contain information about the ingredients in water. These are usually: calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, iron, hydrocarbons, sulphates, and fluorides.
Water bottles also need to include a nutrition facts label. Though most of those values such as calories, total fat, protein and cholesterol will typically be 0, the label is helpful in determining the amount of sodium and vitamins (calcium, magnesium, iron, etc.) or in checking whether there are added sugars.
Finally, it is important to know who the producer or distributor of the bottled water product is, so this information will also be included in the label according to FDA regulations.
Basic Rules of Creating Quality Water Labels
The basic thing water producers need to know is that the combination of label stock and adhesive will determine how the sticker behaves on the product. An unfortunate choice of label materials often results in labels that are not resistant to moisture so they peel off or the ink smears and information becomes unreadable. Poor quality labels reflect the lack of professionalism, which can reflect on the number of returning buyers.
The Beverage Labels team is specialized in creating durable, moisture-resistant stickers that comply with FDA standards for water labels. We make sure the labels stay applied in all conditions that water bottles are subjected to during transportation and storage, so we’ll certainly make a reliable partner to businesses looking for quality product labels.