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First, keep in mind that water is simply one compound, H2O, which, by itself has no taste, repeat, no taste at all and no nutritional value. The taste and any health claims are derived from things added to or present along with the water. And although many claims have been and still are made for the various non-water additives, essentially they have only been shown to affect taste. The health claims are generally exaggerated. Keep in mind, that water, like air, is not a nutrient, although it can carry them.
The non-water constituents can be important, though, as distilled water has no taste, and is bland, while the minerals give waters a taste that some prefer. The same is true of pH: the range is very narrow and won't affect safety. Dissolved solids (usually iron oxide [rust] and other inerts, generally only affect appearances and clarity.
First let's look at the types of water you will find on the market: Artesian Well Water, simple drinking water, distilled water, mineral water, purified water, sparkling water, spring water and well water. A complete definition of each type of water is found here, at the bottom of this page.
Why are you buying a bottled water: because it tastes better? To have a cleaner, safer source of water? Or because it's a spa water that will make your healthier?
What harmful things can be in water? Pathogens, like cryptosporidium, bacteria, heavy metals, pesticides, chemicals, radon, etc. Most studies usually conclude that the "best" waters, in these terms, are produced from purified tap water. In other words, not bottled "natural" waters! In almost all areas of the US, EU, Japan, etc., the public water supplies produce a water which is very safe; free from harmful bacteria, viruses and chemicals. (You can check YOUR local water supply here). However, the pipes within a building and from the treatment plant could be old, have lead solders, allow iron oxide, etc. into the water, so a tap water filter removes these, along with dissolved solids and the dissolved chlorine.A brief word about chlorine: those who fear any additive, even those like chlorine which prevent disease-producing germs, viruses and bacteria to survive need to understand that chlorine is a gas at standard pressure and temperature. This means it will quickly evaporate from open water. Just as CO2 will quickly leave a bottle of soda once it is opened, Cl2 leaves the water on it's own. Even without a filter, tap water left in the fridge in a loosely covered bottle will be practically chlorine-free within 24 hours.
So, for safety, your choice would be a home purification systems (Reverse Osmosis and/or filtration), purchased bottled purified waters, like Dasani; or artesian waters.
This, of course, is highly subjective. It simply depends on what you like.
If you like bubbles, go for sparkling water.
However, in general, choose artesian waters rather than surface waters. Artesian supplies are stable, secure underground lakes, isolated from sources of contamination and unlikely to vary. (see "types of water, below) Surface waters and near surface wells and aquifers (like many springs) can be much more easily contaminated with industrial and agriculture run-off. Artesian waters will usually also have enough dissolved inorganic salts to give a taste that is pleasing.
Mineral waters will tend to have a stronger taste. Distilled water ought tt have no taste. Spring waters can vary considerably. In general, surface waters would be the last choice, as the are the most variable (from brand to bran) and have the greatest potential for most types of contamination (rainfall, surface run off, soil contamination, etc.).
The type of container can dramatically affect the taste of the water inside. Lower grade plastics such as HDPE (high-density polyethylene, from which milk jugs are often made), can give a "plastic taste" to the water. Look for PET (polyethylene terephthalate) instead. And even PET can contain contaminants, which move into the water over time. A conducted by researchers at the University of Heidelberg (Germany) Institute of Environmental Geochemistry tested for antimony in waters bottled in PET containers and found concentrations of more than 100 times the average level of antimony in uncontaminated groundwater, which is 2 parts per trillion (ppt). (2). The concentrations of antimony increase the longer the water was stored in the plastic. The bottom line: choose glass or PET plastic, and then use it promptly.
Look at the recycling stamp on the bottom of your plastic water bottle. The "safer" plastics are identified by a number "1" in the stamp or the letters "PET" or "PETE" on the bottom of the container. HDPE is identified by a number "2" in the stamp or the letters "HDPE" (high density polyethylene). A number "4" in the stamp or the letters "LDPE" means low density polyethylene, and a number "5" in the stamp or the letters "PP" means polypropylene. While all of these are allowed for drinking water; the best (that is, other than glass) is PET.
Discussing the "health" properties of bottled water is a lot like discussing crop circles and astrology. While there are people who believe that a certain water will make them healthier, there is absolutely no credible scientific evidence to suggest that a certain water has any properties that will make it healthier than simple clean, purified water and a healthy diet. In other words, the additives (natural or otherwise) such as carbonates, other minerals, etc. are present in a health diet and have not been shown to have any exceptional health value when present in water beyond that which they provide in other sources.
Put simply, there is no water which is a fountain of youth or health. But if you want to believe that are certain water will make you healthy, go for it. And can we also sell you some lucky magnetic Elvis medallions to put in your shoes to improve your health, too?
A case can be made for making your own "bottled" water at home. Bottled waters may sit on a shelf or in a warehouse for months and beyond. If exposed to sunlight, algae and other microorganisms may grow. Few bottled waters are sterilized and there is no chlorine present to inhibit bacterial growth. There is typically also less scrutiny of water bottlers than municipal water suppliers. Anyone receiving water from a municipal water supply can see the most recent test results and any violations by going to this page and entering their zip code, http://www.ehso.com/drinkingwaterreports.php. I have not heard of any water bottlers that allow routine public access to their test results. A relatively inexpensive at home water purification system, ranging from the Britta and Pur brands for the facet or fridge, to the under sink or whole-house reverse-osmosis systems can produce water for you to fill your own clean bottles to take outside the home!
There are several different varieties of bottled water. The product may be labeled as bottled water, drinking water or any of the following terms. The Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) product definitions for bottled water are:
Artesian Water / Artesian Well Water: Bottled water from a well that taps a confined aquifer (a water-bearing underground layer of rock or sand) in which the water level stands at some height above the top of the aquifer.
Drinking Water: Drinking water is another name for bottled water. Accordingly, drinking water is water that is sold for human consumption in sanitary containers and contains no added sweeteners or chemical additives (other than flavors, extracts or essences). It must be calorie-free and sugar-free. Flavors, extracts or essences may be added to drinking water, but they must comprise less than one-percent-by-weight of the final product or the product will be considered a soft drink. Drinking water may be sodium-free or contain very low amounts of sodium.
Mineral Water: Bottled water containing not less than 250 parts per million total dissolved solids may be labeled as mineral water. Mineral water is distinguished from other types of bottled water by its constant level and relative proportions of mineral and trace elements at the point of emergence from the source. No minerals can be added to this product.
Purified Water: Water that has been produced by distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis or other suitable processes and that meets the definition of purified water in the United States Pharmacopoeia may be labeled as purified bottled water. Other suitable product names for bottled water treated by one of the above processes may include "distilled water" if it is produced by distillation, "deionized water" if the water is produced by deionization, or "reverse osmosis water" if the process used is reverse osmosis. Alternatively "_____________ drinking water" can be used with the blank being filled in with one of the terms defined in this paragraph (e.g. "purified drinking water" or "distilled drinking water").
Sparkling Water: Water that after treatment and possible replacement with carbon dioxide contains the same amount of carbon dioxide that it had at emergence from the source. (An important note: soda water, seltzer water and tonic water are not considered bottled waters. They are regulated separately, may contain sugar and calories, and are considered soft drinks.)
Spring Water: Bottled water derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the surface of the earth. Spring water must be collected only at the spring or through a bore hole tapping the underground formation and the spring. Spring water collected with the use of an external force must be from the same underground stratum as the spring and must have all the physical properties, before treatment, and be of the same composition and quality as the water that flows naturally to the surface of the earth.
Well Water: Bottled water from a hole bored, drilled or otherwise constructed in the ground which taps the water of an aquifer.
In the United States bottled water's shelf life is date stamped for two years. It should be stored in a dark, cool, dry area away from any solvents or chemicals. I have tasted a bottle of Mountain Valley that was bottled several decades ago and the seal (in this case a metal cap) was still intact. The water was excellent, and except for some mineral crystals at the bottom on the glass, was identical to a fresh bottle of Mountain Valley.
The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) further adds:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the quality and safety of bottled water, has neither set nor suggested any limitation to the shelf life of bottled water.You may notice that most bottled water containers sold at retail bear a two-year expiration date. This acts as a lot number and is for stock rotation purposes. It does not mean the product is substandard after that date. Thus, bottled water purchased in bulk is good indefinitely if stored appropriately. Appropriately means unopened in a cool, dry place away from odors and toxic substances.For those yearning for a more technical explanation, it is thus: Bottled water is considered to be of virtually no significant nutritional value. Therefore, unlike milk, fish or poultry, bottled water is not an adequate substrate for pathogens responsible for the majority of food-borne illnesses. In that regard, IBWA's general position is that as long as bottled water is packaged in accordance with FDA processing and good manufacturing practices, 21 CFR, Part 129, and meets the FDA quality standard provisions as outlined in 21 CFR, Part 165, the product's shelf life should remain intact for an indefinite period provided that product storage and other post-packaging and handling practices do not adulterate or deleteriously affect the finished product. Whew!
By the way, the size of the container is irrelevant. Bottled water is a federally regulated pure food product packaged and distributed in individually coded discrete sanitary containers. It adheres to a strict regimen of testing and analysis. IBWA members must also adhere to standards tougher than the FDA requirements and must also submit to annual surprise inspections by an independent third party inspection organization (National Sanitation Foundation/NSF International). For a list of bottled water regulations and IBWA members, visit IBWA's web site