Bottled Waters

Today's supermarket shelves offer bottled waters-some flavored, others plain. But what do the terms on the label mean? According to the FDA:

  • Artesian water is a certain type of well water, collected without mechanical pumping. The well must tap a confined aquifer that has water standing much higher than the rock, gravel, or sand. An aquifer is an underground layer of rock or sand with water.
  • Well water is collected from an underground aquifer, too, but with a mechanical pump.
  • Drinking water is bottled water from an approved source. It must meet state and federal standards and go through minimal filtration and disinfection.
  • Mineral water contains minerals at a standard level, no less than 250 parts per million (ppm) of total dissolved solids, or minerals. These minerals must be naturally present, not added. If the level is less than 500 ppm, it will be labeled "low mineral content"; if higher than 1,500 ppm, "high mineral content."
  • Purified water has been processed to remove minerals and other solids. The process may be distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis, or another suitable process. Tip: "Purified" doesn't mean that purified water is any more "pure" or better for you than tap water.
  • Distilled water, which is one type of purified water, has been evaporated to steam, then recondensed to remove minerals.
  • Sparkling water is water with a "fizz." Either carbon dioxide is added, or water is naturally carbonated. If carbon dioxide is added, it can't have any more than its naturally carbonated level. It can be labeled as natural sparkling water only if there's no added carbonation. Seltzer, tonic water, and club soda are considered soft drinks, not sparkling water, and may contain sugar and calories.
  • Spring water comes from an underground source and naturally flows to the surface. It must be collected at the spring or through a bored hole that taps an underground source of the spring. If it's collected by an external (not natural force), it must have the same composition and physical qualities (perhaps carbonated) as the naturally flowing spring water.

where the lead or nitrate content of water is a concern, bottled water may be a good alternative, particularly for pregnant women or families with children. Bottled water doesn't contain lead.

Some cooks prefer bottled or filtered water for cooking. It usually doesn't contain chlorine, which may slightly alter the flavor of soups and stews. In homes with lead pipes or lead solder, bottled water may be a good alternative in soups, stews, and other long-cooking dishes. During extended cooking times, any lead in tap water may become more concentrated.

Consider this: most bottled water isn't chlorinated. So if you sip from the bottle for several days, it's subject to bacterial contamination. Drink it right away; wash the bottle with soapy water if you plan to reuse it.

Safe Enough to Drink

For any nation, water safety is a top public health priority. In the United States, infectious disease spread by untreated water has been almost nonexistent, except during natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, or accidental contamination of wells or municipal water. Any of these incidents can devastate a community's drinking water supply, so you're wise to know what to do in a water emergency.

When the safety of your water supply is in doubt, don't drink it! Instead, take steps to make it safe from bacteria that spread infectious disease.

  • Report your concern to your water company or local public health department. They may test the water or refer you to a qualified private laboratory.
  • If you rely on a private well or spring, have it tested annually by a certified water testing laboratory for coliform bacteria, nitrate, and perhaps other contaminants such as radon, pesticides, or industrial wastes. Do it more often if your sample exceeds the standard. People who draw their water from a private water source are responsible for the safety of their own water supply. For tips on how to protect a private water supply, http://www.epa.gov/safewater/ is the EPA's Web site.
  • Purify contaminated drinking water by boiling tap water for at least one minute, then pouring the boiled water into a sterile container. At high altitudes, perhaps if you're camping, boil water longer. Why? At high altitudes water boils at a lower temperature, which may be less effective at killing bacteria.
  • Use iodine or chlorine tablets to disinfect your water supply, strictly following directions on the package. These products are generally available in camping stores. Campers, hikers, and others who rely on water supplied by lakes and streams in wilderness areas might use water filtration and purification devices as well as iodine or chlorine tablets.
  • Contact the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline or Web site; your state certification officer for referral to a certified water testing lab; or your local health department. See "Resources You Can Use " at the back of this book.

In some countries, contaminated water is an ongoing problem, spreading diarrhea and even life-threatening diseases such as cholera and hepatitis. For

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