Whether it is health concerns, a suspect water supply, or the need for a drink on the go, bottled water is the key to many of our challenges. No wonder the bottled water industry in the United States hit an all-time high consumption of over 11.7 billion gallons in 2015.1 Improperly stored opened bottled water may breed bacteria and other impurities. Exposure to heat or sunlight could leach plastic into the water, making it potentially toxic. So, how long does bottled water last? And when is it time to toss out that bottled water from your pantry? Here are some answers.
Unopened Bottled Water Lasts For 1–2 Years
Most companies that make bottled water label it with a shelf life of anywhere from 1 to 2 years. Your bottled water is seen as good to drink up to that date. But there are many factors that come into play here. Here’s the lowdown!
Properly Sourced And Tested Water Doesn’t Expire
[pullquote]If stored correctly, water doesn’t ever go stale.[/pullquote]
According to NSF International, a product testing and certification organization that also inspects bottled water manufacturers, water itself doesn’t become stale or bad. In theory, if you were to have a bottle of clean water, it should be good to drink indefinitely – if you store it correctly.2 In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that there is no need for bottled water to carry any kind of expiry date at all.3
However, their guidelines for good manufacturing practices dictate that
- Water should be produced, stored, and transported under sanitary conditions.
- The water source must be free from contaminants, chemicals, and bacteria.
- The water must be tested for safety and quality.4
Assuming these steps are taken, the water itself can be packaged with no need for an expiry date.
Expired Water Is Not Unsafe, Just Tastes Different
So, why the expiry date at all then? The date put by manufacturers is usually more indicative of the time by which you should have it so that it tastes best. A question of quality and not safety. After that date, it may not be that the water has done bad or is unsafe, but that it will start to taste different and may not be as appealing to consumers.5
The material bottled water is packaged in also has a role to play. More on that next!
But The Bottle Material May Leech Into The Water
The FDA regulates the bottled water industry with a stringent set of norms as with any packaged foods. Not just the source of the water and the labeling, but the packaging material is also scrutinized closely.
[pullquote]Avoid bottles made of BPA, a synthetic material used for packaging. It is linked with cancer and heart disease risk.[/pullquote]
Popular materials include PET plastic, high-density polyethylene, and polycarbonate plastics. Glass and aluminum cans are other varieties though less common. Chances are the bottled water you drink is in a PET plastic bottle that’s 100% recyclable.6
Beyond the expiry date mentioned on the bottle, the plastic or material it is made from might start leaching into the water, altering the flavor of the water. One material in particular – bisphenol-A or BPA – is also being investigated further for its possible effects on the safety of bottled water due to its possible link to cancer and heart disease risk.7
Storing Bottled Water Improperly Can Contaminate It
The manufacturer may keep up their end of the bargain and deliver contaminant-free water in bottles made from proper food grade material, stored and shipped properly. Now you should store bottled water correctly to keep it tasting fresh and safe to drink for the duration of its shelf life (and possibly beyond).
[pullquote]Sunlight or heat can make the bottle chemicals leach into the water, making it toxic.[/pullquote]
- Store the bottled water, like any other food, in a clean place in the pantry.
- Avoid leaving it near chemicals, cleaning compounds, gasoline, paints, or anywhere it may be exposed to chemical fumes.
- Store it away from harsh sunlight or heat. A cool place is best.
- If the bottles get dirt on them, you could accidentally consume the dirt or germs in them. So ensure the outside of your bottled water is just as clean as you’d want the inside to be!
Opened Bottled Water Can Last For A Few Weeks
If you open bottled water, as time passes, whatever bacteria are in it could multiply, altering the taste. If you drink from the bottle directly, germs from your mouth could transfer to the bottle and then the water, making it taste different over time.
[pullquote]If you want the bottled water to last longer, it might be better to not drink directly from the bottle.[/pullquote]
In other words, bottle water’s shelf life after opening depends on how you use the bottle. For some it could be fine for a few days, others might make it last longer. But most of us would toss it in a few weeks largely due to the odd taste.
Boil Your Water If It Looks Or Smells Funny
If you do feel the bottle has accidentally opened or the water has developed parasitic or algae growth, avoid using it. If it just smells or tastes funny, boil it before you use it if you need it in an emergency. If you have a choice, use it up for watering the garden or for cleaning rather than drinking.
Choose The Right Bottled Water
Besides the shelf life, there are other things you should be aware of when it comes to what you’re drinking.
Look For Water That Has Been Purified
Parasite-free or, more specifically, cryptosporidium-free water is vital for anyone who has a weak immune system. In healthy adults, the parasite could cause mild illness but in people with compromised immunity, it can prove fatal. Always look for water that has gone through distillation, reverse osmosis, or is filtered with an absolute 1 micron filter.10
Look For Certification From NSF Or IBWA
As an added precaution, you could check for reliable manufacturers of bottled water who are more likely to follow best practices. While the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) do not actually certify bottled water, you can check for certification from the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) or NSF International. Both of these organizations keep a routine check on the quality of bottled water.11
Pure Tap Water Can Last For 6 Months
Tap water is supposed to be decontaminated, often with chlorine, and is reasonably clean – but this depends on where you live and can vary by geography and water source. Assuming both your tap water and your bottle are clean, if you bottled it hygienically and correctly in a non-commercial setup, use it within 6 months, according to government recommendations. That’s equivalent to saying the shelf life of tap water is 6 months on an average.12
|↑1||Bottled Water 2015 Acceleration. International Bottled Water Association.|
|↑2, ↑9||Five Facts You Should Know About Bottled Water. NSF International.|
|↑3||Bottled Water Storage. International Bottled Water Association.|
|↑4||FDA Regulates the Safety of Bottled Water Beverages Including Flavored Water and Nutrient-Added Water Beverages. US Food and Drug Administration.|
|↑5, ↑8||What to know about storing bottled water. State of Michigan.|
|↑6||The Safety of Beverages in Plastic Bottles. Food Safety Magazine.|
|↑7||Can Water Go Bad?. Time (2014).|
|↑10||Commercially Bottled Water. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑11||Bottled Water Basics. United States Environmental Protection Agency.|
|↑12||Water. Department of Homeland Security.|