Drinking Water Regulations & Standards: An International Perspective Part II

May 29, 2018

About the author: Stephen R. Tischler is vice president for operations and business development for National Testing Laboratories, Ltd. He can be reached at 800.458.3330, or by e-mail at [email protected].


In my first article in the May issue of Water Quality Products, I mentioned that bottled water is regulated in the U.S. as a packaged food product by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has been organized under many different departments over the years and is currently part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

U.S. Background

Interestingly enough, the FDA began as the Division of Chemistry charged with the investigation of adulterated agricultural commodities in the late 1860s. The division engaged in adulteration and misbranding of food research and investigation. In 1901, the name of the division was changed to the Bureau of Chemistry, though its work on food adulteration and misbranding continued.

The modern era of the FDA began in 1906 when Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Federal Food and Drugs Act. In 1927 the Bureau of Chemistry’s name was changed to the Food, Drug, and Insecticide Administration. The name was shortened to the Food and Drug Administration in 1930. The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act was signed in 1938 by Franklin Roosevelt in the wake of a therapeutic disaster in which more than 100 people died. The current version of this act is documented on the FDA website as referenced in Table 1, and as part of U.S. Code, Title 21, Chapter 9. Specific bottled water rules published by executive brand agencies and departments, like the FDA, are documented in the Code of Federal Regulations. Table 1 also includes reference to those regulations. The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act addresses issues of food adulteration and misbranding, while rules published by the FDA in the Code of Federal Regulations deal with standards of identity, quality and good manufacturing practice.

In addition to these federal standards, the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) publishes a Bottled Water Code of Practice, referred to as the Model Code.

It was first published in 1982. IBWA members are required to meet the requirements of this code. The Model Code was designed to provide state agencies a minimum standard upon which to base their own bottled water regulations.

International Precedents

There is considerable evidence from early historical writing that governing authorities attempted to protect consumers from dishonest practices in the sale of food. Assyrian tablets described methods to determine correct weights and measures for grains and Egyptian scrolls prescribed labeling certain foods. During the Middle Ages, European countries passed laws concerning the quality and safety of eggs, sausages, cheese, beer, wine and bread. A few of these ancient statutes still exist today. A collection of standards and product descriptions for a wide variety of foods developed between 1897 and 1911 in the Austro-Hungarian Empire was known as the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus. The modern Codex Alimentarius gets its name from the Austrian code.

Many countries based their bottled water standards of identification and standards of quality on the Codex Alimentarius. As you may recall from my previous article, the Codex Alimentarius Commission was created through the United Nations to develop standards, guidelines, codes of practice and other recommendations as a single international reference point.

The Codex

There are three primary categories of documentation in the codex:

1. Codex standards generally relate to product characteristics. There are general standards such as the one for labeling of prepackaged foods (Codex Stan 1-1985) and specific standards like the one for naural mineral waters (Codex Stan 108-1981).

2. There are also codex codes of practice that define the production, processing, manufacturing, transport, and storage practices for individual foods or groups of foods that are considered essential to ensure safety of food for consumption. Two codes of practice involving bottled water include CAC/RCP 48-2001, “Code of Hygienic Practice for Bottled/Packaged Drinking Waters (Other than Natural Mineral Waters)” and CAC/RCP 33-1985, “Recommended International Code of Hygienic Practice for the Collecting, Processing and Marketing of Natural Mineral Waters.”

3. Codex guidelines fall into two categories: principles that set out policy in key areas and guidelines for the interpretation of these principles or for the interpretation of the provisions of the codex general standards (www.codexalimentarius.net).

As an international guidepost, the codex has been the referenced standard used by the International Council of Bottled Water Associations (www.icbwa.org). Members of this association include the Asia and Middle East Bottled Water Association, the Australasian Bottled Water Institute, Inc., the Canadian Bottled Water Association, the European Federation of Bottled Waters, the Latin American Bottled Water Association and the IBWA. The ICBWA has developed its own Model Code as a guideline for resource protection, standard of identity, standard of hygiene and standard of quality for its members. Much of this Model Code makes reference to the Codex Alimentarius.

Protecting Today’s Consumer

Government agencies, too numerous to mention, are at work each day developing and enforcing specific regulations aimed at protecting the quality of our drinking water, including bottled water. For example, in Canada, bottled water is regulated under the Food and Drugs Act by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Bottled water will continue to be a highly regulated food product, and it is comforting to know that there are comprehensive standards in force, both in the U.S. and internationally, to protect consumers.

The next article in this series will expand on standards and regulations dealing with public drinking water supplies in the U.S. and internationally. The World Health Organization’s “Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality, Third Edition” will be examined more closely, along with the U.S. EPA’s National Primary Drinking Water Regulations.

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