Water Vending

Jan. 28, 2005
An overview of water vending machine regulations

About the author: Marianne R. Metzger is technical support/accounts manager for National Testing Laboratories, Ltd., Cleveland, Ohio. She can be reached at 800.458.3330 ext. 223, or by e-mail at mmetzger@ntllabs .com.


Water vending machines offer consumers a less expensive option to purchasing bottled water or the initial investment of water treatment equipment.

During the last few years there has been a growing awareness of water quality issues among consumers leading them to question the quality of the water they drink. As a result of the consumers’ quest for “Better Quality” drinking water, there has been an increase in the sales of water treatment equipment, bottled water and vended water. This trend has caused water vending machines to gain more and more popularity over the last couple of years.

Water Vending Machines

Water vending machines offer consumers a less expensive option to purchasing bottled water or the initial investment of water treatment equipment.

There are two distinct methods of water vending. There are the stand-alone machines that are placed in high-traffic areas such as grocery stores and other retail stores. Then, there are storefronts, which offer vended water in addition to other water quality and health-related products. One of the main differences between the two is that machines contained in the stores offer consumers the opportunity to ask the operator any questions they may have about the quality of the water being produced. Regardless of whether the water vending machine is found at a retail location or within a storefront, the same regulations apply to both.


Here comes the question, “Who regulates vending machines?” In the U.S., water vending machines are regulated by the FDA under the 1978 Vending of Food and Beverage Model Ordinance, which focuses on design standards to ensure the machines are constructed from appropriate materials. However, this ordinance does not include any requirements for ensuring the quality of the water produced by requiring testing of the product water.

In addition, the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) offers certification to manufacturers of water vending machines. This certification involves evaluating machines to the applicable design and construction specifications of the latest edition of the U.S. Public Health Service Model Food Code, and the further requirements of the NAMA Standard for the Sanitary Design and Construction of Food and Beverage Vending Machines.

NAMA Requirements

NAMA requires that all water produced by a water vending machine shall go through disinfection as the last step of treatment. In addition, they also require an automatic shut down of the machine should the disinfection treatment fail. Most vending machines utilize ultraviolet (UV) light for disinfection, therefore, NAMA also provides specific dosage requirements.


NAMA’s further requirements include water quality testing with standards set for turbidity, total dissolved solids, total Coliform bacteria, pH, chloride, sulfate and lead. The maximum allowable levels are based upon the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Maximum Contaminant Levels under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The water is tested prior to entering the machine and then at the dispenser nozzle, and again after 250 gallons of water have been produced.

Machines producing water that is labeled as “purified” must test for total dissolved solids, total Coliform, pH, chloride and sulfate with the maximum allowable levels being based upon U.S. Pharmacopoeia quality standards (USP XXIII).

Machines producing purified water must be equipped with conductivity sensors, which will shut off vending if the water fails to meet the 10-ppm standard for total dissolved solids.

NAMA recommends that tests for total Coliform bacteria be done at least twice a year, and tests for conductivity, taste, odor and turbidity be performed at every service visit.

Evaluations are done by public health consultants who specialize in environmental issues in addition to public health.

Once the manufacturer meets the requirements of the evaluation and testing, a “Letter of Compliance” is issued by the public health consultant identifying the machine by manufacturer, model and date of certification. The manufacturer is then allowed to display the “NAMA Listed” service mark on the approved machine. NAMA Certification is voluntary; however, some states such as California do require NAMA certification for machines located in their state.

Water Supply Guidance 3

In 1998, the EPA re-issued Water Supply Guidance 3 to clarify the Status of Water Vending Machines under Public Law 93-523. This Guidance document concludes that water vending machines, which either treat water in some way, or sell water are covered by the National Interim Primary Drinking Water Regulations as a non-community, non-transient public water supply. These vending machines are required to be connected to a public water supply that should already meet the Safe Drinking Water Act requirements. The machines are considered “consecutive treatment” and are exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act water quality monitoring requirements.


Local and state health authorities have the primary responsibility for enacting and enforcing minimum public health and safety standards for installation, operating and maintaining these machines. There about 15 states that currently regulate vended water, with more states developing regulations as water vending machines become more prominent within their state. A majority of the states with regulations in place refer to both the NAMA construction and design standards and Title 21, Code of Federal Regulations, which are the FDA’s requirements for bottled water. However, most state regulators are not strictly enforcing the FDA regulations with water vending machine operators, most likely due to a different interpretation of the regulations. In addition to requirements for monitoring the product water, many states require operators of water vending machines to apply for a permit or license depending on the state.

It is important to contact the appropriate state regulator when setting up a water vending machine to find out what they require. Operators may also contact NAMA as they may have specific regulatory information about the state being considered.

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