A Thirst For Approval

Good news for water drinkers. Quality Assurance International (QAI) has expanded its seal of approval from organic products—which applies strictly to foods agriculturally grown—to bottled water, with its new "certified source" accolade. "We wanted to expand our range and provide consumers with verification that the bottled water they buy lives up to company claims," says Joe Smillie, senior vice president of QAI.

To earn QAI's certification, companies must do regular third-party assessment of the quality of the water and arrange on-site visits to the source. The third party also looks at every step in the process of collecting and packaging water, from inspections of the land from which the water is collected, to the production facility.

The first to be awarded certified-source verification is Trinity Water, the mineral water and natural dietary supplement bottled at Trinity Springs in Paradise, Idaho. The company, independent of its certification, subjects itself to frequent lab testing to ensure the purity of the water and to assess its mineral content. Trinity is also certified as a Natürliches Heilwasser ("health water") from an independent lab in Germany that tests spring sources internationally.

Other bottled waters are currently undergoing the certification process, according to Smillie. Only bottled waters that are processed with UV or ozonation are eligible for the certification; any chemically disinfected waters are excluded, he says.

Water Source
Along with the QAI certification, interested water consumers have another new resource to help discern the nuances of the H2O they drink. The Web site www.bottledwaterweb.com now features a chart that helps shoppers clarify the differences between the many waters on the market. Although there are more than 600 brands sold—some only available regionally—the chart just highlights a few familiar kinds available nationwide.

Also on the site are criteria for "water tasting," by which water can be evaluated in the same manner as wine. These standards include appearance (color, cloudiness, suspended particles); aroma (chlorine, sulfur); flavor; mouthfeel; and aftertaste (swirl, taste evenly over tongue).

The difference between European palates and ours, says Arthur von Wiesenberger, creator of the Web site, is that Europeans look for what is in the water, namely such minerals as magnesium, calcium, fluoride or silica, while U.S. water drinkers focus on what is not—for example, chlorine and contaminants.

—Barbara Hey