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Food and Nutrition

Frequently Asked Questions about Bottled Water

Bottled water is a topic of interest to Canadians. In this section you will find answers to frequently asked questions about the quality of bottled water sold in Canada.

  1. What is bottled water?
  2. How is bottled water regulated in Canada?
  3. Who is responsible for the regulation of bottled water?
  4. Who checks bottled water?
  5. Is bottled water regulated differently than tap water?
  6. Are the requirements for imported bottled water the same as those for bottled water produced domestically?
  7. Is a license needed to start bottling water for sale?
  8. What types of bottled water are there?
  9. Why is ozone added to spring or mineral water?
  10. Can bottled water be manufactured from municipal tap water?
  11. What type of information is required on the labels of bottled water?
  12. How can I tell the source of the water used for a bottled water?
  13. Is bottled water sold in Canada safe?
  14. Are there bacteria in bottled water?
  15. Can bottled water cause illness?
  16. Is bottled water safer than tap water?
  17. What should I consider before buying bottled water?
  18. What type of bottled water do you recommend?
  19. How should bottled water be stored?
  20. Could I store and use bottled water for emergency use?
  21. How do I prepare water to store for emergency use?
  22. What can I do to ensure the safe use of bottled water?
  23. Does Health Canada regulate the plastic bottles used to sell water in?
  24. Is it true that plastic used in water bottles can release Bisphenol A into the water?
  25. Is it safe to reuse the bottles that water is sold in by filling them with tap water?
  26. Does freezing bottled water cause toxic chemicals to be released from the plastic bottle into the water?
  27. How should a water cooler be cleaned?
  28. Where can I find more information?

1. What is bottled water?

Bottled water is water which has been packaged in sealed containers for human consumption. The water can come from a variety of sources including springs, aquifers, or municipal supplies and may be treated to make it fit for human consumption.

2. How is bottled water regulated in Canada?

In Canada, bottled water is regulated as a food and therefore it must comply with the Food and Drugs Act. Section 4 of the Act prohibits the sale of foods which contain poisonous or harmful substances and section 5(1) of the Act prohibits the labelling, packaging, treating, processing, selling or advertising of any food in a manner that misleads or deceives consumers as to the character, value, quantity, composition, merit or safety of the product.

There are specific regulations for bottled water set out in Division 12 of Part B of the Food and Drug Regulations. The regulations provide definitions for different types of bottled water and specify microbiological standards, acceptable treatments and labelling requirements for these products.

In addition to the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations, the Health Products and Food Branch also issue guidelines for bottled water and other products. These guidelines are published in the "Health Products and Food Branch Standards and Guidelines for the Microbiological Safety of Foods - An Interpretive Summary" published in the Compendium of Analytical Methods. As a result of microbiological surveys conducted across Canada, the Health Products and Food Branch has set guidelines for two additional bacteria (other than those in the Regulations) : Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Aeromonas hydrophila. These bacteria are indicators of poor "Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP)". The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and other health officials could test for these bacteria when the manufacturer is out of compliance and/or has been involved in food borne outbreaks.

Standards for microbiological quality are based upon data collected through Canada wide surveys on these products, reviews of international data, and consultation with bottled water associations, scientific experts and other clients involved in this industry. Based upon these consultations, Health Canada is bringing the microbiological standards in line and harmonizing with international standards. The Food and Drugs Act and Regulations are available on the Next link will take you to another website Department of Justice's Web site.

3. Who is responsible for the regulation of bottled water?

The federal responsibility for the regulation of bottled water sold in Canada is shared by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Health Canada establishes health and safety standards for bottled water and develops labelling policies related to health and nutrition. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency develops standards related to the packaging, labelling and advertising of these products and handles all inspection and enforcement duties.

Federal laws set stringent national standards for bottled water. In addition to these laws, provinces and territories are free to establish additional requirements for their own jurisdictions.

4. Who checks bottled water?

As part of its enforcement role, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency can inspect bottled water products, labels and establishments (conveyances, equipment etc.) involved in the sale, manufacture and distribution of bottled water. In addition, some provincial and municipal ministries and agencies may inspect bottled water.

5. Is bottled water regulated differently than tap water?

Yes. While bottled water is regulated federally as a food (see Question 2), the tap water distributed by municipalities is regulated by the appropriate province or territory. However, Health Canada is involved in the development of the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. These Guidelines are developed through the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Committee on Drinking Water which includes members from the provinces, territories and Health Canada's Healthy Environment and Consumer Safety Branch. They contain guidelines for microbiological, chemical, physical and radiological contaminants. For each contaminant, the Guidelines establish the maximum acceptable concentration of the substance that can be permitted in water used for drinking. They are used by the provinces and territories as the basis for their own drinking water standards.

More information on the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.

6. Are the requirements for imported bottled water the same as those for bottled water produced domestically?

Yes. All bottled water sold in Canada must comply with the Food and Drugs Act and its Regulations.

7. Is a license needed to start bottling water for sale?

The Food and Drugs Act and Regulations do not require bottled water operators to have a license to start bottling water commercially. However, the provinces and territories may have regulations, guidelines and policies that apply to the bottling of water. It is recommended that provincial and municipal authorities be contacted regarding standards and licensing requirements for bottling water.

8. What types of bottled water are there?

Currently there are two categories of bottled water defined in the Food and Drug Regulations. The first, spring or mineral water, is bottled water that originates from an underground source which is not part of a community water supply and is fit for human consumption at its point of origin. Mineral water generally contains a larger amount of dissolved mineral salts than spring water. Spring or mineral water may not be subjected to any treatment that would modify the original composition of the water. It may be treated by the addition of carbon dioxide for carbonation, ozone for disinfection during the bottling process and fluoride for the prevention of dental carries.

Bottled water that is not labelled as spring or mineral water may be from any source and can be treated to make it fit for human consumption or to modify its original composition. The label of these bottled waters must show how they have been treated. When a water has been treated by distillation it must be labelled as "distilled water". If carbon dioxide has been added for effervescence, the label must identify the product as "carbonated water". When a water has been treated by a method other than distillation to reduce its dissolved mineral content to less than 10 parts per million, the product must be identified as "demineralized water".

9. Why is ozone added to spring or mineral water?

Ozone may be added to spring or mineral water during the bottling process as a disinfectant to inhibit the growth of harmful microorganisms. Ozone is also effective in removing objectionable odours and flavours because it breaks down into oxygen which improves taste and other qualities.

10. Can bottled water be manufactured from municipal tap water?

Yes, except for mineral water or spring water. It is possible for a bottled water to be produced from municipal tap water that has undergone a treatment process to lower the mineral content and/or remove chemicals such as chlorine.

11. What type of information is required on the labels of bottled water?

All bottled water must carry the following basic labelling information:

  • common name,
  • net quantity,
  • name and address of the responsible company,
  • list of ingredients if it consists of more than one ingredient,
  • nutritional information, and - fluoride ion content.

The following additional information must be on the label spring and mineral water:

  • dissolved mineral salt content,
  • statement indicating whether ozone or fluoride has been added, and
  • statement relating the geographic location of the underground source of the water.

The label of bottled water, other than spring or mineral water, must also include a description of any treatment the water has undergone.

For more information on the labelling of bottled water and other foods, please consult the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Next link will take you to another website Guide to the Labelling and Advertising of Food

12. How can I tell the source of the water used for a bottled water?

In the case of a spring or mineral water, the label is required to provide information regarding the geographic location of the underground source of the water. There is currently no regulatory requirement that other types of bottled water declare the source of the water used for their manufacture. However, consumers can contact the bottled water manufacturer for detailed information on the source.

13. Is bottled water sold in Canada safe?

Bottled water has an excellent safety record in Canada. At the present time, no waterborne disease outbreaks have been associated with drinking bottled water in Canada. Health Canada is confident that the current bottled water regulations, as well as the general provisions of the Food and Drugs Act, are adequate to ensure the safety of bottled water products in Canada. Nevertheless, Health Canada is presently reviewing these regulations to update current requirements to incorporate new scientific knowledge, to harmonize them with the standards of other governments and international agencies and to bring the Regulations in line with the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.

14. Are there bacteria in bottled water?

Yes, there can be. Bacteria are found in most bottled waters sold for drinking purposes. Bottled water is usually disinfected to remove harmful microorganisms but this treatment is not intended to sterilize the water. Sterile water is normally reserved for pharmaceutical purposes, such as in contact lense solutions.

15. Can bottled water cause illness?

A bottled water could potentially cause illness if the water used for its production was untreated or inadequately treated to remove any disease-causing organisms it contained. This risk would also exist if the same water was used in a community water system for delivery from the tap. A bottled water manufactured from an inadequately treated source would be in contravention of the Food and Drugs Act.

16. Is bottled water safer than tap water?

Quality standards for bottled water and tap water are similar. Both bottled water and municipally distributed tap water that meet or exceed their required health and safety standards, are considered to be safe.

17. What should I consider before buying bottled water?

There is more to bottled water than an attractive label. When choosing a bottled water, examine the bottle and label for date of manufacture or manufacturing code, chemical analysis, treatments applied, company contact information and the location or type of water source.

When travelling and uncertain of the source or quality of a bottled water, avoid bottled water that has not been disinfected or carbonated.

Examine the bottles to be sure that the seals are not broken and the water is clear and free of debris. Report suspicion of any tampering or extraneous material to the store manager, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and/or regional health officials.

When buying 18 L carboys for use with a cooler, purchase those with no spill caps which ensure that water is not spilled and air does not enter the bottle when its placed on the cooler.

18. What type of bottled water do you recommend?

Health Canada recommends that people whose immune systems have been weakened by disease, surgery, or therapy, consume bottled water that has been disinfected in some manner to eliminate harmful bacteria (e.g., ozonation). These individuals should contact their physician for advice on the types of water to consume and how they should treat their drinking water.

All bottled water meeting or exceeding the federal standards are comparable from a health and safety perspective for the general population. A consumer's choice of bottled water is likely to depend on their needs and taste preferences.

For more information on the types of water for infants, please visit our website

19. How should bottled water be stored?

Bottled water should be stored in a clean, cool and dry environment and out of direct sunlight.

Once water bottles have been opened, Health Canada recommends that you consume the content and refrigerate any leftover. The 18 L carboys of bottled water should be dispensed through a refrigerated water cooler that is kept clean to avoid contamination. See question 27 for guidance on how to clean and maintain your water cooler.

20. Could I store and use bottled water for emergency use?

Yes. Large quantities of bottled water can be stored in a basement or other cold storage area in case of problems with municipal supplies or an emergency situation. The area should be a clean environment away from cleaning or chemical products and out of direct sunlight. Although manufacturers give bottled water a two year shelf-life, Health Canada suggest that you replace water stored for emergency use after one year.

21. How do I prepare water to store for emergency use?

When preparing water for emergency use, use clean bottles or containers that are made/intended for food use. The container and cap should be cleaned with hot soapy water and rinsed well. The container can then be filled with clean potable water. Visit Next link will take you to another website Is Your Family Prepared? for advice on how to treat and store water safely.

22. What can I do to ensure the safe use of bottled water?

In the case of all single use bottled water (except 18L carboys):

  • Do not refill old bottles.
  • Do not share bottles.
  • Clean the bottle top or cap before drinking or pouring from them.
  • Keep the opened bottle clean and preferably refrigerated as the water, cap and cap liner can all support bacterial growth which may originate from the mouth or the environment.

In the case of 18L bottles used with a dispenser,

  • Clean water coolers regularly (see instructions below).
  • Use water dispensers with coolers that keep the water refrigerated. Some units have heaters as well.
  • Use water coolers that filter the air that enters the bottle as the water is dispensed.

23. Does Health Canada regulate the plastic bottles used to sell water in?

Yes. The plastic containers used for bottled water are regulated as food packaging materials. Manufacturers are responsible for ensuring that their bottles comply with requirements set out in Division 23 of the Food and Drug Regulations.

24. Is it true that plastic used in water bottles can release Bisphenol A into the water?

Most plastic bottles used in the sale of bottled water in Canada are made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) or polyethylene (PE), which does not contain Bisphenol A. Large jugs (18 L bottles) and some sport bottles can be made of polycarbonate plastic (PC) which may contain small amounts of Bisphenol A. As a result of the use of polycarbonate water bottles, minute quantities of Bisphenol A can potentially leach out into the water or food and consumers may be exposed to small amounts of Bisphenol A through their normal daily diet. The Food Directorate of Health Canada has conducted a review of all the data available on the migrational and toxicological characteristics of Bisphenol A as well as other pertinent information (e.g. use patterns) and concluded that the dietary exposure to Bisphenol A from food packaging sources, including PC water bottles, does not pose a health risk to consumers.

25. Is it safe to reuse the bottles that water is sold in by filling them with tap water?

Health Canada does not recommend the reuse of single-use bottles because the reuse poses a potential microbiological risk if not cleaned properly. Studies on reusing single-use bottles have found that depending on the source of the water used and the general hygiene of the user, the growth of bacteria in the bottle can vary from negligible to potentially hazardous. Health Canada suggests that people use wide-necked bottles that can be thoroughly washed with hot soapy water between uses.

Frequently, the concerns regarding the re-use of single-use plastic bottles for drinking water have focussed on the safety of the plastic under these conditions. There have been claims that polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) plastic used in single use water bottles breaks down when used repeatedly releasing cancer-causing chemicals. However, Health Canada has seen no scientific evidence to suggest that reusing PET bottles will contribute harmful levels of chemicals and toxins to the water. Health Canada has also concluded that the levels of Bisphenol A detected in water bottled in polycarbonate do not pose a health concern.

26. Does freezing bottled water cause toxic chemicals to be released from the plastic bottle into the water?

Health Canada is not aware of any substantiated evidence to suggest that freezing bottled water causes the release of toxic chemicals from the plastic. Any possible migration of chemicals from the plastic water bottles is actually expected to be lower under freezing temperatures.

27. How should a water cooler be cleaned?

Cleaning your water cooler:

Reservoir

Note: Clean your bottled water cooler before every bottle change.

Unplug cord from electrical outlet of cooler.

Remove empty bottle (carboy).

Drain water from stainless steel reservoir(s) through faucet(s).

Prepare a disinfecting solution by adding one tablespoon (15 mL) household bleach to one Imperial gallon (4.5 L) of water solution.

or

Some companies suggest using one part vinegar to three parts water solution to clean the reservoir of scale before cleaning with bleach. Check your manual.

Note: Other disinfecting solutions may be suitable. Please check with your water cooler supplier/manual.

Pour the bleach/other disinfection solution into the resevoir.

Wash reservoir thoroughly with bleach solution and let stand for not less than two minutes (to be effective) and not more than five minutes (to prevent corrosion).

Drain bleach/disinfection solution from reservoir through faucet(s).

Rinse reservoir thoroughly with clean tap water, draining water through faucets, to remove traces of the bleach/disinfection solution.

Drip Tray (located under faucets):

Lift off drip tray.

Remove the screen and wash both tray and screen in mild detergent.

Rinse well in clean tap water and replace on cooler.

Replacing Bottle:

Wash hands with soap and warm water before handling. If you choose to use clean protective gloves (ex. latex), discard or disinfect after each use and prior to reuse.

Note : Protective gloves should never replace proper hand washing and hygiene.

Wipe the top and neck of the new bottle with a paper towel dipped in household bleach solution (1 tablespoon (15 ml) of bleach, 1 gallon (4.5 L) of water). Rubbing alcohol may also be used, but must be completely evaporated before placing the bottle in the cooler

Remove cap from new bottle without touching the surface of the opening to avoid any contamination. Place new bottle on cooler.

Adapted from instructions provided by Ken Orom, Calgary Board of Education, and, Calgary Health Services.

28. Where can I find more information?

Microbiological Quality of Bottled Water

Ms. Hlne Couture
Bureau of Microbial Hazards
Health Products and Food Branch
Health Canada
4th Floor
Sir Frederick Banting Research Center
P.L. 2204A1
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0L2

Tel: (613) 957-1742
Fax: (613) 952-6400
Email: helene_couture@hc-sc.gc.ca

Chemical Quality of Bottled Water

Bureau of Chemical Safety
Health Products and Food Branch
Health Canada
1st Floor East
Sir Frederick Banting Research Center
P.L. 2201B1
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0L2

Tel: (613) 957-1700
Fax: (613) 990-1543
Email: bcs-bipc@hc-sc.gc.ca

Tap Water (Drinking Water), Drinking Water Treatment Devices

Water Quality Program
Safe Environments
Healthy Environments and Consumer Safety Branch
Health Canada
123 Slater Street, 5th Floor
A.L. 3503A
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0K9

Tel: (613) 952-6750
Fax: (613) 952-2574
Email: water_eau@hc-sc.gc.ca

Labelling, Compliance Activity and Inspection

Next link will take you to another website Canadian Food Inspection Agency (www.inspection.gc.ca)
1-800-442-2342
TTY 1-800-465-7735

Bottled Water Industry

Ms. Elizabeth Griswold
Executive Director
Canadian Bottled Water Association
70 East Beaver Creek Road
Suite 203-1
Richmond Hill, Ontario L4B 3B2

Tel: (905) 886-6928
Fax: (905) 886-9531
Email: Griswold@cbwa.ca

Packaged Ice

Mr. Adam Koven
President
Canadian Association of Ice Industries
5 Cataraqui Street
Box 1420
Kingston, Ontario K7L 5C6

Tel: (613) 546-2128
Fax: (613) 546-0333

Municipal Drinking Water

Mr. T. Duncan Ellison
Executive Director
Canadian Water and Wastewater Association
Unit 11, 1010 Polytek Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1J 9H9

Tel: (613) 747-0524
Fax: (613) 747-0523
Email: admin@cwwa.ca