Bottled water is America’s most popular beverage category by volume. In recent years, sales of bottled water have surpassed those of carbonated soft drinks, and companies are increasingly seeking ways to add value to bottled water through flavorings, fortification and other price-altering attributes.
The federal government helpfully defines “bottled water” as water sealed in bottles or other containers without added ingredients. As additional water beverages enter the market, the FDA must determine how these new products will be regulated. Applying common sense, the regulations contemplate “bottled water” as an ingredient of “flavored bottled water.” The regulations apply when the term “water” is highlighted on the water beverage’s label. A carve-out to this general rule is that FDA considers soda water, tonic water, seltzer, and water with added carbonation as soft drinks, rather than as “bottled water.”
The FDA regulates bottled water as a food and imposes national safety and labeling requirements. Bottled waters need to pass safety requirements, particularly compliance with good manufacturing practices. In addition, these products must comply with particular labeling requirements.
On the safety side, federal regulations mandate that bottled waters cannot be mislabeled or adulterated. For example, bottled waters that are “excessively turbid,” “excessively radioactive” or those that contain “excessive bacteria” must be so labeled. While it is unlikely that cloudy, radioactive and bacteria-laden bottled water would be commercially successful, bottled water that would be injurious to human health is “adulterated,” according to the regulations, and subject to FDA enforcement action.
A variety of terms apply to bottled water labeling. Labeling a product “spring water” is different from a label denoting “purified water.” The FDA sets standards of identity and defines labeling requirements for bottled waters. For example, the FDA’s regulations note that water from a well tapping a confined aquifer is “artesian water.” Meanwhile, “spring water” must only be collected from a spring or through a bore hole tapping the underground formation feeding the spring. Water that comes from a community water system must have conspicuous labeling that it hails from a municipal source. “Mineral water” has a certain level of total dissolved solids that originate from a “geologically and physically protected underground water source.” “Purified water” is bottled water treated by distillation, reverse osmosis, deionization or a similar process, and the label will often denote the purification process used.
As new water beverages enter the marketplace, consumers are seeing new products with flavorings and added nutrients, such as sodium, electrolytes and vitamins. The federal standards of identity for bottled water are important guides for both manufacturers and consumers in navigating the increasingly diverse bottled water market.