Bottled water, in the United States, is considered by the FDA to have an indefinite shelf-life. In other words, it doesn’t actually expire or go bad. The taste will change over time and a ten-year-old bottle of water probably will not taste very good, but it is not considered unsafe to drink. Yet, many bottles of water have expiration dates, usually around two years from the date of manufacture. Why does water have an expiration date if it doesn’t actually expire?
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Contrary to the interesting explanation found on many food listicles, these expiration dates do not exist because ‘the water doesn’t expire but the bottle does.’ While the FDA does state that long-term storage of bottled water may result in an off-odor or taste, it does not require manufacturers to put expiration dates on the bottles. It seems odd that bottlers would place expiration dates on bottles when it is not required. The conspiracy-minded would state that it’s because they want us to throw away the bottles and buy new water! But, there is a more concrete reason for the practice.
It turns out to be very simple. If you see an expiration date on your bottle of water, blame New Jersey. New Jersey is the only state to have passed a law requiring expiration dates on water bottles. This was passed in 1987. It is not clear why the state deemed this necessary.
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New Jersey is just one state so it may seem strange to put an expiration date on every bottle, no matter what state it is bound for. But, it’s cheaper. It’s easier and less expensive to just slap a date on every label than to have to change your production line mid-step for certain bottles. That would put a wrench in the works.
You will see similar irrelevant labeling on many products. For example, you may see the dreaded California Proposition 65 warning on many products, regardless if they are being sold in the United States. This causes many consumers to think that the product will give them cancer, cause birth defects, or reproductive problems, even though it’s only there to satisfy an absolutely ridiculous requirement that manufacturers warn consumers if a product contains one of 900 chemicals that the state has decided to put on it’s cancer-related (etc.) substances list, even though not all of them are known human carcinogens.
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It’s easier for some companies to place this warning on their labels regardless of where the product is being sold. And, you will see this warning on Amazon quite often. It is almost guaranteed that many small companies just provide this warning regardless of whether they know that one of these chemicals exists in the product or is used during the manufacturing process. It’s easier to give the warning than to meet the requirements. I’ve also heard rumors of a fee being charged to enable companies to be certified to not give the warning. I do not know if this is true, however.
Another example are food allergy warnings. It may be easier to put a “this product is manufactured in a facility that also processes tree nuts” allergy warning on a label than it is to make doubly sure there is no cross-contamination. On the other hand, the product may be safe, regardless.
However, the New Jersey law requiring expiration dates on bottles of water was repealed in 2006.
Even though New Jersey no longer requires an expiration date, it seems some bottled water manufacturers kept on putting the dates on their bottles. Perhaps they didn’t see any reason to change what they had been doing for decades.
According to the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), however, “Some companies still place date-based lot codes on bottled water containers, which are typically used to assist in managing stock rotation.” A date-based lot code, to be clear, is not an expiration date, and also according to the IBWA, there was never any scientific evidence to support the use of expiration dates on bottled water.
It is doubtful this practice will continue far into the future, though, making me think that few people will actually notice an expiration date on their water, wonder why it is there, and find this article. I’m curious to find out!
Keep in mind that the FDA is careful to say that water isn’t considered to expire as long as it is bottled under current ‘good manufacturing guidelines’ and is stored in a sealed, unopened container. Once you open your bottle of water, and bacteria get into it, it certainly will go bad quite quickly.
You may be concerned, as are many, about the potential for chemicals from the plastic bottles to leach into the water over time. PET bottles which are used for almost all bottled water, have been deemed by the FDA to be safe. But, there has been some research on such chemicals like antimony, a possible carcinogen that may be present in some plastic bottles. It is believed that the potential for leaching of this chemical is greater when the bottle is stored under hot conditions.
Although most studies have been performed in Europe or China, a study in the United States tested antimony leaching from water bottles in the Southwestern U.S. This area was chosen because of its high rate of bottled water consumption and its high temperatures. Nine commercially available bottled waters were tested and antimony levels were found to be within safe limits, although higher temperatures certainly caused antimony to leach more quickly. Thestudy found that it took bottles being stored at 150° F for 38 days for antimony levels to reach FDA limits, while at 167° it took only five days.
Another study, testing multiple bottles in China for antimony and bisphenol A showed almost no risk. To be clear, there is no BPA (bisphenol A) in PET plastic bottles used for your bottled water but antimony still could be a concern.
Very little of the antimony in PET bottles ever leaches into the water, but there is still good reason to seek out alternatives that do not contain this chemical. 1Westerhoff, Paul, et al. “Antimony Leaching from Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) Plastic Used for Bottled Drinking Water.” Water Research, vol. 42, no. 3, 2008, pp. 551–556., doi:10.1016/j.watres.2007.07.048. 2Fan, Ying-Ying, et al. “Effects of Storage Temperature and Duration on Release of Antimony and Bisphenol A from Polyethylene Terephthalate Drinking Water Bottles of China.” Environmental Pollution, vol. 192, 2014, pp. 113–120., doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2014.05.012.
Bottled Water Storage
It would be wise to not store your bottled water in very warm temperatures such as the trunk or backseat of your car, where, during the summer, temperatures can reach well above 150°. Also do not store your water in the garage, in a storage shed, or in the attic, especially if you live in a very warm and sunny climate such as the South or Southwest. Also, when you are at the beach, do not leave your water bottles sitting under the sun all day. Keep it in a cooler or at least under shade. In general, store bottled water in a place that will keep it at room temperature or cooler.
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