There seem to be a plethora of misnomers floating around regarding the level of scrutiny bottled water faces from the Food and Drug Administration. Specifically, alarmists tend to enjoy leading others to believe that bottled water is not regulated by the agency at all or as well as tap water. When in fact, it is quite the opposite, bottled water is regulated by the FDA, tap water is not. Tap water is actually regulated by the Environmental Protection Act (EPA).
As far as the FDA is concerned bottled water should be treated as a food item and governed as such with additional consideration. This explains the separation from tap water as tap water does not fall under the same modes of packaging and handling as bottled water. Therefore they cannot be treated in a parallel manner. The additional tangibility of bottled water actually places it under stricter scrutiny as it is treated under the food heading in the FDA code but is also subject to rules designed specifically for bottled water. To further cement this concept, I have pulled this quote directly from the FDA website:
“It is worth noting that bottled water is one of the few foods for which FDA has developed specific CGMP regulations or such a detailed standard of quality” (FDA.GOV).
Standards for bottled water are specifically outlined in Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. This section declares differentiations in types of water such as spring or distilled. Usually of particular interest to drinkers is the level of allowable contaminants which also falls under this section in addition to manufacturing, storage, transportation and labeling standards. The entire bottling process is addressed from the water source to the final product, touching on sanitation, contamination and quality control. In addition, essential microbiological, chemical and radiological testing levels for both source and finished water are in place. Although the testing itself is performed by an approved lab, the FDA has been known to perform their own random testing from time to time.
Let us take a step back for one moment to delve into the labeling section previously mentioned. This is a biggie. I am certain that everyone and their brother has heard the old wives tale that all bottled water is no more than tap water with a fancy label and a new name. If that were true the FDA would certainly have something to say about it. As they outline in great detail, all bottled waters must be labeled to reflect the true definition of its type. Again, I have pulled this table directly from their website:
In addition to accurately labeling the type of bottled water packaged, if companies microbiological testing results were to fall below FDA standards they are required to inform you of such on the label. Of course, if the contaminant is deemed dangerous the product would be recalled, however, if it is determined safe but contains a high level of bromate, for example, the label must read as such.
The product itself is not the only thing monitored, the physical manufacturing facilities are also under FDA jurisdiction. In this instance, an inspection reflects the same expectations as that of a food production plant. Pretty in-depth for a product they supposedly do not even govern.
Plus, here is the twist, it doesn’t end with the federal government, bottled water is governed by state and local authorities as well. Having dealt with many states and local policies, I can assure you that some standards on this level go even deeper than that of the FDA.