THE SCIENCE EXPLAINED
Types of water
Natural Mineral Water: Water originating from an underground water table or deposit, which is bottled at source, and is microbiologically wholesome and naturally free from pollution and harmful micro-organisms. Characterised by a stable composition (minerals, trace elements etc.) which is preserved intact by the extraction and bottling methods. NMW in its state at source may not be the subject of any addition other than the introduction or reintroduction of carbon dioxide under certain conditions.
Spring Water: Water originating from an underground water table or deposit, which is bottled at source, and is microbiologically wholesome and naturally free from pollution and harmful micro-organisms. It does not however need to demonstrate a stable composition.
Bottled Drinking Water: Drinking water which is bottled, and is neither spring water nor natural mineral water. It can come from a variety of sources, including municipal sources. Unlike natural mineral water and spring water, bottled drinking water can be treated without restriction providing it does not make the water unsafe. See below for the various treatments which bottled drinking water may undergo.
Production of Natural Mineral and Spring Waters
Natural Mineral Water and Spring Water are not processed, they are simply extracted from an underground water table or deposit, which emerges from a spring (a spring is the access to or point of discharge from the water table) tapped at one or more natural or bore exits and then bottled.
Natural Mineral Water and Spring Water must be bottled at source.
Natural Mineral Water and Spring Water are distinguished from ordinary drinking water (including bottled drinking water) by their nature, which is characterised by mineral content, trace elements or other constituents; and by their original state, both characteristics having been preserved intact because of the underground origin of such water, which has been protected from risk of pollution.
Bottling of Natural Mineral and Spring Waters
Water comes into the bottling plant direct from the spring through stainless steel pipes in a completely enclosed system, and it is then bottled using dedicated bottling machines in specially designed hygienic bottling rooms in order to continually protect the water from contamination. The process is continuous and the bottles are immediately sealed, labelled and collecting for packing. The packs, cartons and crates are then put on pallets and loaded directly into wagons, trailers or containers for shipment to customers.
No chemicals are added and the water is not tampered with other than to remove minor impurities, solid matter and unstable elements if present (see below). It is delivered to the customer essentially as pure as it came from the source.
As part of the process, and on top of the legal statutory analysis undertaken by the law enforcement officers (Environmental Health and Trading Standards Officers), many different daily controls take place in the bottling plants including:
Microbiological controls are undertaken daily, from various points from source to the finished product.
Physico-chemical checks verify daily the stability of the composition and check that no accidental pollution has taken place.
Products are then ‘positively released’ on satisfactory completion of these tests.
Natural Mineral Water and Spring Water are subjected to stringent quality checks both as they flow from the spring and at each stage of the bottling process (filling, before and after capping). At every stage of the bottling process, samples are taken from the piping, the equipment, the air in the bottling area, the empty bottles and the bottle caps in order to ensure that perfect conditions of hygiene are maintained. These stages are known as critical control points.
Factory layouts typically accommodate a continuous process flow so that deliveries and storage take place at one end of the plant and finished goods and the dispatch area are at the other.
Materials are usually separated into allocated areas for packaging materials, closures and bottles, as are, wherever possible, different types of bottles (glass, PET, PVC). Filling and capping takes place in a controlled environment.
Treatments for Natural Mineral Water and Spring Water
The following treatments (to separate unstable elements if present) are permitted providing that they do not alter the composition of the water as regards the essential constituents which give it its properties
Filtration or decanting: The water is passed through a porous substance such as special paper or sand which allows the fluid to pass through but retains suspended solid particles.
Treatment with ozone (a colourless gas): Ozone rich air is passed through the water to remove unstable elements such as manganese, sulphur or arsenic. Use of ozone must have prior approval of the appropriate authorities.
Treatments for other Bottled Water
The following treatment methods influence the micro-biological contents of bottled drinking waters, removing any possible harmful bacteria which may have been picked up
UV treatment: The water is treated with ultra-violet light which kills bacteria.
The following treatments aim to influence the chemical composition of bottled drinking water ensuring that any extreme levels of minerals are reduced:
Reverse osmosis: A high pressure is used to force water through the pores of a synthetic membrane which are too small to allow most metal ions and aqueous salt ions to pass through.
Ion exchange: The water is passed across the surface of a resin which captures a particular ion from the water and gives up another ion in return. This is particularly useful in dealing with excessive minerals.
The treatments above should not be mistaken for disinfecting systems such as those used to cleanse mains water. Mains water has a number of uses including bathing, washing and drinking. It must be transported over long distances in large pipes before reaching the final consumer. Chlorine is added to general water supplies for safety reasons as part of the cleansing systems. It acts as a residual disinfectant although it can impart a taste which some people may dislike.
As bottled waters are delivered hygienically direct into sealed bottles, there is no requirement for a residual disinfectant.