Bottled Water Certification

NSF Bottled Water Certification Program at a glance

"Filtered, bottled or on the rocks with a swizzle and a lime. However you prefer your water, we certify it.” goes the copy of a current NSF advertisement. The NSF International certification programs are certainly well known in all aspects of the water industry—treatment, additives, plumbing, contact surfaces and, of course, bottled water. While all water programs deal with the same commodity, the NSF Bottled Water Certification Program is unique among the water-related certification programs, and indeed among all NSF certification programs, in that it is the only program that certifies a specific food product.

Humble Beginnings

In 1984, the bottled water certification program was developed, and while the records showing the exact number of clients are archived, at least three companies came into the program that year for certification of their bottled water product. The NSF bottled water program started to become a high profile part of the bottled water industry in 1985, when the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) tapped NSF to perform the audits for their unique and progressive member audit program—a relationship that still exists. The NSF Bottled Water Certification Program owes much of its experience and success to the relationship with the IBWA audit program and subsequently the relationships with the audit programs of the former “international chapters” of IBWA (CBWA - Canada, EBWA - Europe, LABWA - Latin America, ABWI - Australia and ABWA - Asia) that have since spun off into autonomous groups. Twenty years later, the industry around the world has grown beyond most expectations and the NSF certification and audit programs have grown with it. By the end of 2005, together with the IBWA audit programs and the NSF certification programs, NSF will perform audits of nearly 800 bottled water facilities around the world. Today, the NSF bottled water program boasts 215 participating plants in 35 countries, producing more than 300 certified products.

Testing & Audit Requirements

Water treatment professionals understand that NSF certification of water treatment equipment involves testing of products to various standards and auditing of production facilities to assure compliance with materials and manufacturing practices. But what about a food product like bottled water, what are the certification requirements there?

You may not be surprised to find the same protocol is followed. The first requirement is successful testing of the bottled water product to FDA or European Union (where applicable) chemical and physical quality standards and an audit of the facility to assure Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) to FDA and NSF policy standards, and a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system to Codex HACCP standards.

What kind of product testing is required to meet the chemical requirements for FDA standards? More than 140 different chemical parameters are tested on an annual basis at the NSF drinking water laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich. (Figure 1). Along with this annual test, compliance testing involves daily microbiological testing of the product performed in-house and weekly microbiological testing of the product and source at an outside qualified laboratory.

The audit program examines the manufacturing practices of each facility. GMP include all aspects of the operations from construction to maintenance and sanitation. While the audit and plant assessment gets very complex, particularly in large plants with multiple filling lines and products, the basic GMP audit criteria is summarized in Figure 2.

A thorough review of the HACCP system is also an important part of the audit. Each plant has a HACCP team identified to create and maintain a HACCP system. The team creates a flow chart of the process points in the bottling plant, examines the potential hazards at each step and creates critical control points to control those hazards. The identification and control of the identified hazards and the subsequent follow up, becomes the HACCP plan, the centerpiece of the quality control program. bw

Loren M. Merrick is general manager of the NSF Bottled Water Program, Ann Arbor, Mich. He can be reached at 734.913.5762, or by e-mail at merrick@nsf.org.

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