Bottled water sales are expected to surpass carbonated soft drinks by the end of the decade, if not sooner, according to an article published last year in The New York Times. Although it implied a rosy future for North American water bottlers, there will be challenges.
From a consumer perspective, bottled water is a convenient, clean, and safer option for today’s busy families. However, there have been numerous articles in national publications that have questioned the assumption that bottled water is better, cleaner, and purer. Bottlers need to deliver on that quality promise.
Whether it is spring water, mineral water, or filtered water, many water bottlers use ozone for water disinfection. Ozone has been used as a disinfectant and an oxidizer for drinking water for more than 90 years.
“Ozone is the perfect solution for preserving bottled water,” comments Lee Comb, a principal with G4 Water, LLC, a San Francisco-water quality projects consultancy. “Ozone can also be used for rinsing containers and caps, as well, instead of chlorinated city water.”
Ozone is made from oxygen in the air on-site. After oxidizing microorganisms, ozone immediately reverts back to pure oxygen. If handled and used properly and under controlled conditions, ozone leaves no by-product and will not change the taste or smell of the water product.
It is also approved by the FDA and USDA as a food contact substance and is an allowed ingredient under USDA National Organic Program regulations (USDA’s Organic rule in 2000).
Ozone use has provided many benefits to the bottled water industry, including improved taste and the elimination of odors as it oxidizes microorganisms and organics.
Updating the Process
In the past it was sufficient to know the ozone system was on and producing ozone. That is not true with the today’s regulations. The enactment of the Food Safety Modernization Act has serious implications for water bottlers. Keeping records of the dissolved ozone level is mandatory. Local and/or remote data logging and using sensors for the calibration of dissolved ozone is preferred.
A programmable logic controller (PLC) utilizes a PID to maintain precise ozone concentrations. A PLC is a digital computer used for process control and governs the PID, a feedback control mechanism that calculates the difference between a measured process variable and a desired set point.
Jon Brandt, president of Ozone International, states that “It will become increasingly difficult to comply with these regulations using outdated ozone equipment.” The old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” no longer applies.
The good news, according to Comb, is that the technology has advanced significantly in recent years, with more reliable and efficient equipment.
Even at the turn of the century, ozone generators were often unreliable and had difficulty controlling ozone levels. Coupled with poor customer service, ozone companies came and went.
“Service is a key component,” adds Brandt. “There’s no point in paying for a piece of equipment that is not functioning properly.”
The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has approved ozone as safe for workers (29 CFR 1910.1000). Ozone has a distinctive, clean odor that is immediately recognizable at unsafe levels.
The FDA approved ozone for bottled water in 1982. In 1997, an FDA expert panel declared ozone to be safe for use in food processing. In 2001, the FDA approved ozone as a food additive and recognized ozone as a Good Manufacturing Practice.
Ozone is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a “biocidal device,” because it leaves no residue on products or in the environment. It is also exempt from further EPA restrictions—eliminating the need for handling, storage, record keeping, and disposal of chemicals that are covered by increasingly stringent government regulations.