- Category: Food Safety & Consumer Protection
- Published: Monday, 29 July 2013 17:31
- Written by Anne Johnson
- Hits: 38756
Not too many years ago, if someone had suggested you could get rich by selling bottled water, you probably would have called them crazy. However, yesterday's craziness has become today's craze with most grocery stores dedicating much of an aisle to various bottled water products. Even though you might suspect the water market is already saturated, new bottled water products are busy fighting for their space on those shelves.
Each new company wants its chance to convince the public that their product is somehow better than the water you get from your tap or public drinking fountains. Fancy labels, names and verbiage suggest their water either has the best taste, some special health benefit, or will donate money to your favorite charity - each entrepreneur vies for a share of the market.
Strict requirements for bottling facilities and good manufacturing practices, analytical tests of the water itself, and inspections by state or federal officials all ensure that bottled water is as safe as tap water. However, because there seems to be a public perception that spring, mineral, or well water are in some ways better, cleaner, or more natural than tap water, FDA has written two sections of the Code of Federal Regulations to define terminology, set standards, and form a framework for the regulation of bottled water.
These regulations help prevent fraudulent or misleading product representation and help ensure that bottled waters throughout the country are safe and wholesome. Nonetheless, consumers are still ultimately responsible to choose those foods and beverages they believe will contribute the most to their health and well being.
Bottled water is water that is intended for human consumption that is sealed in bottles or other containers with no added ingredients except optionally added safe and suitable antimicrobial agents and/or limited amounts of fluoride.
The name of the food is "bottled water" or "drinking water" and may include other appropriate terms depending on the source and treatment of the product.
Water that has been processed by distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis, or other suitable processes so that it meets the definition of "purified water", may be labeled "purified drinking water", "deionized water", "distilled water", or "reverse osmosis water" as appropriate. Water from a community water system that doesn't qualify for one of these names, must include the words "from a municipal source" or "from a community water system" as part of the product name.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has defined several other categories, including: spring water, ground water, artesian well water, mineral water, or sparkling water.
"Spring water" designates water that flows naturally from an underground formation to the surface of the earth. The word "spring" cannot be used as part of the product name or description for any other type of water.
"Ground water" is the name of water from a sub-surface saturated zone under a pressure that is equal to or greater than atmospheric pressure, but must not be under the direct influence of surface water.
"Artesian water" or "artesian well water" is water from a well tapping a confined aquifer in which the water level stands at some height above the top of the aquifer.
"Mineral water" is water that contains not less than 250 parts per million (ppm) total dissolved solids (TDS) coming from a source tapped at one or more bore holes or springs. Mineral water may be distinguished from other types of waters by its constant level and relative proportions of minerals and trace elements at the point of emergence from the source. Minerals may not be added to water to create "mineral water".
Mineral water with 250 - 500 ppm TDS is called "low mineral content Mineral Water".
Mineral water with greater than 1500 ppm TDS is called "high mineral content Mineral Water".
"Sparkling water" is water that has naturally occurring carbon dioxide.
In the preamble to the final rule on bottled water, FDA noted that "Firms may manufacture nonstandardized bottled water products with ingredients such as minerals for flavor . . . The common or usual name of the product must reflect these additions, such as "purified water with minerals added for taste".
Taking advantage of this statement and the fact that bottled water may be an ingredient in other beverages and dietary supplements, many companies have chosen to add other ingredients, i.e., sweeteners, flavors, colors, and recently caffeine, oxygen, or dietary supplement ingredients to bottled waters. Addition of such ingredients removes the product from FDA's definition of "bottled water". However, such products are frequently shelved with bottled water products in stores, which may lead customers to assume that they are similar in content. Obviously consumers should read the ingredient statements to discover which additional ingredients are contained in them.
Owing to the large numbers of new products introduced to the marketplace yearly, it is impossible for state and federal employees assigned to label compliance to review them all. FDA writes the rules for food labeling for most products, but doesn't have a label approval requirement or process. They take action on products whose labels are discovered to be seriously misrepresentative or fraudulent when they are brought to their attention. However, much of FDA's time and effort is spent addressing food issues with a bearing on health and safety, such as product contamination and not on label violations. Health and safety issues include bacterial contamination, problems arising in the processing of food, ingredient statements that do not list known allergens found in the product, etc. Therefore, to a large extent, food labels, including labeling of bottled water products are largely out of control.
Manufacturers come up with imaginative words and graphics intended to garner the largest possible market share. Other manufacturers examine labels on products comparable to the product they intend to market and decide to use similar label ideas and formats adding their own creative twist. Much of the violative labeling in the marketplace is caused by ignorance of label laws and a desire to create customer appeal and interest.
As American consumers' interest in nutrition and "healthy" eating grows, supermarket shelves are being filled with products bearing claims on the health effects of their ingredients and/or the finished product; some are valid, many are not. Consumers should use common sense in assessing the reasonableness of claims, not just assume that if it's on the label, it's true. Some companies are charging incredible amounts for small quantities of product that are supposed to cure everything from skin rashes to ingrown toenails. If it sounds too good to be true, chances are it isn't true.
"Oxygenated" bottled waters are one recently introduced product type whose numbers are rapidly increasing. These products purported health benefits stem from the concept that our bodies need oxygen to survive and the more oxygen we receive, the healthier we will be. Manufacturers suggest that by drinking their product or by drinking small amounts of it mixed with other beverages, larger amounts of oxygen reach our cells, organs and systems. We haven't seen any scientific evidence that indicates that oxygen is absorbed through the digestive tract. Although companies have indicated to us that oxygen levels in the blood increase following ingestion of these products, they have not supplied us with any documentation to verify these claims. We have been unable to confirm that added oxygen remains in the product for any length or time or that it enters the blood stream in an appreciable quantity.
Some labels merely state that the product contains added oxygen, others imply or state health claims ranging from "increased energy, stamina, or mental acuity" to "internal and external cures of diseases, injuries, and chronic ailments. Some manufacturers promote their products through testimonial-filled brochures which often contain statements of enthusiastic praise by "Dr. so and so" telling how much the product has helped his "patients".
While FDA has responsibility for food labeling, there seems to be a gray area defining responsibility for such brochures, pamphlets and books. When is additional product literature labeling? When it is advertising?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has responsibility for Truth in Advertising, but like the FDA, FTC's limited personnel and money prevents them from pursuing all misleading advertisements. They have settled at least one case involving false health claims on an oxygenated bottled water product. See this news release.