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Quality of bottled water myth or reality

Quality of Bottled Water: myth or reality

Does bottled water equate to healthy living?

The bottled water industry has seen substantial growth worldwide, even in regions where tap water is considered safe to drink, as tap water is perceived to be of poorer quality with concerns about the presence of pathogens or chemicals due to the way it’s procured. Due to this and other reasons such as lifestyle, health, lack of access to drinking water sources, etc., the global bottled water market has been increasing in recent decades. Its value is estimated to reach 72.8 billion USD by 2024, with growth to reach close to 90 billion USD by 2029 in the European market alone. In Europe, among the countries with the highest sales of bottled water are Germany, Italy, France, and Spain, with the highest consumption being 200 Liters per person annually.

Bottled water quality myth or reality

Currently, bottled water is not limited to just drinking; it is also a key ingredient for preparing infant formula as well as other medical and sanitary device cleaning uses, given the perception of superior safety. However, this is not entirely true, as it has been underlined in multiple research studies that bottled water is not superior in quality to tap water. With the presence of microbiological hazards in bottled water in France, it has been discovered that major bottled water companies have for years been employing non-permitted purification techniques and products that do not comply with previously established regulations, especially in terms of bacterial and chemical contamination. This is a concerning revelation with reports outlining that one-third of the brands sold in the country are participating in these practices, which means that the scope of the risk to consumers' health would be widespread. Moreover, a study conducted in 2007 on the microbiological safety and quality of bottled water available for purchase in Ireland revealed that 7.2% of the tested bottled water did not meet European microbiological standards and weren’t fit to be consumed.

Microbiological hazards in bottled water

Alarmingly, the most notable microbiological hazards that can be found in bottled water are known as Escherichia coli and intestinal Enterococci. Harrowingly, according to studies by the Scientific Committee of FSAI, Enterococci are known to survive longer in water compared to coliforms and other enteric pathogens, making them a useful marker for assessing water quality. While some organisations, such as the Environment Agency, UK, consider enterococci as secondary indicators of faecal pollution, the World Health Organization views them as important markers for faecal pathogens that can persist in water. Although ingestion of Enterococcus spp. is not typically associated with gastrointestinal disease, their presence in water indicates a likelihood of bacterial pathogens from faeces, thus making bottled water unsafe to drink. In addition, pathogens such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa have also been found to be particularly dangerous due to their ability to form biofilms inside and on the bottom of water bottles, as well as on the cap, due to the small amounts of organic compounds existing within the water. This research has elevated concerns about bottled water safety for the wide population of individuals who consume bottled water daily and just how much of it was contaminated with harmful pathogens and/or chemicals without them knowing.

Bottled water quality myth or reality

To regulate microorganisms in bottled water, the primary guidelines are Directive (EU) 2020/2184 and Royal Decree 03/2023, which outline microbiological analysis methods based on specific parameters. For Escherichia coli and coliform bacteria, the ISO Standard 9301-1 is utilised for enumeration using the MPN. Additionally, for Intestinal Enterococci, the ISO 7899-2 Standard is employed for detection and enumeration.

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