Complex legislation and ingredients' controls dictate the make-up of the myriad of  water-based drinks on the market. Dr Steve Pannell analyses the laws that define the categories and could cause producers trouble.


Mineral Water is, essentially, a natural product bottled without treatment

A stroll around the supermarket on Saturday morning will show just how much water is finding its way into bottles. There are, of course, all the classic mineral waters, the newly fashionable 'designer' waters and an ever increasing range of soft drinks. And all of these may be still or carbonated or both.

In spite of the fact that local mains water consistently tops the polls in blind tastings of water, there is no doubt that a 'bottled at source' label makes a difference to product marketing. But what is really behind the label?

Current legislation, which enshrines the European Community Directive 80/777/EEC, requires that any water labelled as 'Mineral Water' must be bottled at source and forbids "any treatment or addition other than:

  1. the separation of unstable elements;
  2. the total or partial elimination of free carbon dioxide by exclusively physical methods; and
  3. the introduction or re-introduction of carbon dioxide".

So 'Mineral Water is, essentially, a natural product bottled without treatment. But a change of label to 'Table Water' or something similar means that the relevant standards become those set out in the European Community Directive 80/778/ EEC, which defines the quality of water intended for human consumption including, of course, mains water supplies.

David Petrie tried to emulate Del and Rodney Trotter's 'Peckham Spa' water operation, and was jailed for six months

This means that, at least from the point of view of technical compliance, there is no problem in simply bottling mains water and selling it at the going rate. It's not that easy, of course, as former Scottish businessman David Petrie discovered when he tried to emulate Del and Rodney Trotter's 'Peckham Spa' water operation, and was jailed for six months in February.

In practice the so-called 'designer' waters are produced either by further purifying mains waters or by treating private water sources such as wells and boreholes, with the possible addition of flavourings. The treatment processes used range from simple membrane microfiltration for sediment and bacteria removal, through activated carbon adsorption for organics removal and dechlorination, to ion exchange and reverse osmosis, which change the chemical composition of the water.

It's a moot point how much flavouring has to be added before a flavoured water becomes a soft drink, but the same legislation applies to water used in the manufacture of soft drinks, that is it must be of potable quality.

New potable water standards

New legislation in England and Wales to implement the latest EU Directive on drinking water came into force in December 2000, and the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) requires compliance with most of the new standards, summarised in Table 2, by Christmas 2003. Most of the changes will not have any great impact on soft drinks manufacturers, but the new arsenic, bromate and lead standards may cause some concern.

As far as those companies that use mains water supplies are concerned, there will be no real change since the responsibility for compliance lies with the water supplier. However, companies using private water supplies will need to consult a water treatment specialist to check that their treatment processes are adequate.

The Food Standards Agency commented on DWI's consultation paper, "The quality of water to be used in food production will then continue, as now, to be the same as the quality of water to be supplied to premises in which food is produced ... as a result, there will be no cost implications for food business arising from the need to amend the Food Hygiene Regulations."

The comment on cost is an interesting one. On-site treatment of private supplies may need to be modified to ensure compliance with the new legislation and, where this is necessary, there will, clearly, be associated costs. On the other hand the cost of mains water will, almost certainly, rise as water companies gear up to the new standards. This means that soft drinks manufacturers will turn, increasingly, to private supplies where Environment Agency licences are available.

A wide range of technologies is available to meet the challenge set by the new legislation with particular emphasis on the use of membrane processes such as micro-filtration, nanofiltration and reverse osmosis. These processes provide a way of reducing troublesome contaminants and also a physical barrier to microbiological contaminants.

Cryptosporidium

Although a few soft drinks manufacturers may be worried by the forthcoming legislation, it is the recent Water Supply (Water Quality) (Amendment) Regulations 1999 which address the problems of cryptosporidium, that are the industry's current bête noire.

Cryptospordium oocyst

This small protozoan infects the gastrointestinal tract causing sickness and diarrhoea. Following outbreaks of cryptosporidiosis in the West Country and North London the DWI adopted a policy of ensuring that potable water contains less than one cryptosporidium oocyst per 10 litres. Once again, for mains water supplies, the onus is on the supplier to comply with the regulations but, for private supplies, it is the responsibility of the soft drinks manufacturer.

The Amendment requires the water supplier to "... carry out a risk assessment for each of its treatment works to establish whether there is a significant risk from cryptosporidium oocysts ...". If there is a significant risk then treatment must be installed. The oocysts are not difficult to remove from water, but monitoring cryptosporidium is difficult, time consuming and costly.

Cryptosporidium is resistant to chlorine or hypochlorite but there is evidence to show that it can be inactivated by high doses of chlorine dioxide or ozone and by ultraviolet irradiation. However, because of its relatively large size (about 5µm), the usual means of removal is by membrane filtration.

Already some of the supermarkets are insisting that, notwithstanding mains water supplies and risk assessments, their suppliers should fit filtration to less than 1µm absolute to ensure that cryptosporidium is removed not only from water which is used in production but also from that used for cleaning and sanitisation.

Water treatment

In a typical soft drinks manufacturing facility it is quite likely that different products will require different water qualities, and it may not be appropriate to treat all water to the same standard.

Identifying the parameters that do not comply with quality standards at µg/l levels requires skilled analysts who are familiar with water chemistry. Matching the water treatment process plant to the source water quality, be it mains or private supply, and ensuring that it will meet all the quality and quantity demands of production is a job for the specialist.

There is now an even easier way to ensure water quality and that is to 'outsource' the supply of treated water. The advantage of outsourcing water treatment using temporary plant is that the treatment process can be very easily changed to meet changing production requirements in terms of both water quality and quantity - designer water treatment systems for designer water.

Typical In-House Standards For Soft Drinks Water

Parameter
Units
Bottled Product
Canned Product
Comment
Taste and odour
NONE
NONE
Colour
°Hazen
5
5
Mostly found in moorland waters
Turbidity
NTU
0.2
0.2
Due to colloidal matter. Colloids may destabilise as pH falls when fruit concentrates are added
Alkalinity
Mg/l CaCO3
50
50
Neutralises fruit acidity reducing "tang". May cause precipitation of calcium tartrate crystals
Hardness
Mg/l CaCO3
100
100
Adds "crispness" to soda water. May cause caramelisation of syrup in hot processing
Chloride
Mg/l Cl
200
100
Taste. Contributes to corrosion of cans
Sulphate
Mg/l SO4
250
100
Taste. Contributes to corrosion of cans
Nitrate
Mg/l N
10
2
Contributes to discolouration and corrosion of cans
Nitrite
Mg/l N
0.1
0.1
May form nitrosamines
Iron
Mg/l Fe
0.05
0.05
Metallic taste and sediment
Manganese
Mg/l Mn
0.05
0.05
Metallic taste and sediment
Aluminium
Mg/l Al
0.1
0.1
Sediment
Heavy metals
Mg/l
0.1
0.1
Metallic taste and sediment
OA (4h)
Mg/l O2
1.0
1.0
Potential for THM formation
Free chlorine
Mg/l Cl2
0.0
0.0
Used for disinfection of mains water. Causes off-taste
Yeast & mould
No/100ml
5
5
Product deterioration
Table 1

New Drinking Water Standards

Parameter

Units
Current MAC
New MAC

Acrylamide

µg/l
0.125
0.10
Epichlorohydrin
µg/l
0.10
Vinyl Chloride
µg/l
0.50
Antimony
µg/l
10.0
5.0
Arsenic
µg/l
50.0
10.0
Benzene
µg/l
1.0
Benzo 3,4 pyrene
µg/l
0.01 ave
0.01 max
Boron
mg/l
2.0 ave
1.0 max
Bromate
µg/l
25 (in 5 years) 10 (in 10 years)
Nitrite
µg/l
0.1
0.5
Copper
mg/l
3.0
2.0
1,2,dichloroethane
µg/l
3.0
Lead
µg/l
50
25 (in 5 years) 10 (in 15 years)
Nickel
µg/l
50
20
Tetrachloroethene
µg/l
10
) 10 (sum of two parameters)
Trichloroethene
µg/l
30
)
Trihalomethanes
µg/l
100 ave
100 max in 10 years
Table 2

Dr Steve Pannell is Market Director, Food Beverages, Vivendi Water Systems.
Vivendi Water, a subsidiary of Vivendi Environment, is the leading global provider of water and wastewater services to municipal authorities, industrial companies and consumers. The company provides the entire range of outsourcing and design-build services, as well as equipment and systems. With operations in more than 100 countries, Vivendi Water services over 110 million consumers and 40,000 industrial customers world-wide.

With its editorial team of correspondents world-wide, Soft Drinks International is the premier English language journal published monthly, devoted exclusively to matters concerning the creation, manufacture, distribution and marketing of all soft drinks, fruit juices and bottled waters.


Bottled Water: The International Market
http://just-drinks.com/store/products_detail.asp?art=11289