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Over the past 30 years, consumers have flocked to refreshing, mostly taste-free bottled water. This rapid expansion is fueled by the desire for convenient, low- or no-calorie hydration options. Bottled water has grown to the point where it now even eclipses milk, coffee and beer consumption per capita.
While eager to abandon the “empty” calories associated with carbonated soft drinks and other beverages, consumers have begun to demand taste in their once-tasteless bottled water. Beverage manufacturers from around the globe have embraced this phenomenon by offering everything from mundane fruit combinations like lemon/lime to exotic herb concoctions like tomato/basil. Bottled water companies are even producing water for dogs with flavors such as Gutter Water (beef), Toilet Water (chicken), Puddle Water (liver) and Hose Water (lamb). The possibilities are truly endless, especially when you include man’s best friend.
Burgeoning consumer taste trends aside, how do flavor additives affect the food safety and quality of bottled water products around the globe? While adding flavors and other additives is not “rocket science,” flavors do add a significant degree of procedural and operational complexity to the bottled water manufacturing environment. Additional quality and safety procedures and systems must be put in place to ensure a sanitary, safe product.
In response to these serious questions, NSF International developed its all-new Beverage Certification Program to address the challenges faced by today’s diversified bottlers. While the Beverage Certification Program follows the lead of traditional bottled water certification, it includes several vital components that deal specifically with the nuances of flavored water manufacturing. NSF Beverage Certification differentiates flavored bottled water manufacturers from the pack by visibly demonstrating a steadfast commitment to product quality that is beyond reproach. The NSF Mark conveys a message of quality, credibility and trust to retailers and consumers, even for the most exotic flavors.
NSF Beverage Certification involves four steps to meet stringent international requirements.
Bottled and flavored water audit. Bottled Water Certification serves as the basis for flavored water certification. First, a highly trained NSF auditor conducts an unannounced visit to the bottling facility to verify compliance with Good Manufacturing Practices, HACCP system requirements and microbiological testing frequency. Reflecting the program’s global reach, NSF’s audit criterion utilizes both the U.S. FDA Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 and Europe’s Codex Alimentarius General Principles of Food Hygiene.
When combined, these two regulatory guideposts provide bottlers with a solution that is accepted around the world. Furthermore, the auditor reviews the HACCP plan to verify compliance with traceability requirements for the bottled water and the flavor ingredients themselves. The flavoring process is also examined to verify adherence to the above requirements.
Laboratory analysis. While a facility may follow industry-leading manufacturing practices, laboratory water testing can make or break an NSF certification. In its state-of-the-art laboratories, NSF conducts some the most exhaustive water testing in the world. NSF is accredited by U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is registered to ISO 17025 by the Standards Council of Canada and utilizes U.S. EPA-approved testing methods. Plus, all 50 U.S. states accept NSF laboratory data.
NSF scientists methodically analyze the base water product for the presence of such contaminants as metals, disinfection byproducts, pesticides/herbicides, radionuclides and more. These complex analyses verify that contaminant levels fall below maximum allowable limits as set by the FDA, European Union Norms and World Health Organization guidelines.
Flavor additives review. Now that the safety and quality of the water has been verified, the next step is to conduct a toxicological review of the flavoring ingredients to ensure that they are fit for human consumption. If deemed necessary, NSF’s on-staff toxicologists may conduct testing to verify ingredient safety.
Label review. After the data from the audit and scientific testing is compiled, NSF conducts an evaluation of the product label. From there, the label is verified for accuracy of claims such as dissolved solids and the like. Once complete, the product may bear the NSF Mark, the ultimate sign of safety and quality for water, unflavored or flavored.