How and why bottled water is regulated is not common knowledge and can be confusing. Like other bottled beverages, bottled water is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a food product and must adhere to strict quality and labeling guidelines. Many states also have strict requirements for bottled water produced and/or sold within their borders.
NSF certification includes annual unannounced plant inspections of a bottler's operation, covering everything from the source of the water through disinfection and treatment all the way through the container closure process and product storage. Extensive product testing is performed for over 100 different contaminants for compliance with FDA regulations. FDA requires bottled water to be tested regularly for the same contaminants as public tap water supplies. In addition to monitoring for microbiological contamination, bottled water must also undergo annual testing for:
Many varieties of bottled water products are available for purchase throughout the world. These products are usually categorized by the source of the water and the methods used to treat it. When shopping for bottled water, it’s helpful to understand the official “standards of identity” that have been established by agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for these products:
In the U.S., the FDA does not require bottlers to list naturally occurring compounds, such as sulfates or sodium, on the product label, but all ingredients added to the bottled water must be clearly stated on the label. Any naturally occurring or added ingredients in the water cannot exceed maximum levels permitted by the applicable federal or local regulations.
In the U.S., the FDA requires bottled water companies to comply with current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs), which include regular testing to verify the products do not exceed regulated contaminant levels. However, the FDA doesn’t require bottlers to have independent audits or product quality testing by a third party. Because NSF is not a regulatory agency, NSF certification is strictly voluntary. Participation in the NSF certification program by packaged beverage and bottled water companies demonstrates their commitment to producing quality products. Companies throughout the world also certify their bottled water to NSF standards so people everywhere can be assured of bottled water purity.