How Safe Is Bottled Water?

Written by Madeline Sharpe

December 9, 2013

How Safe Is Bottled Water?

In many countries around the world, water from the tap is perfectly safe to drink, although sometimes a change in water can cause mild gastrointestinal upset to your system. The real concern is with water in less developed countries that might be contaminated with microorganisms that can make you very sick. Public health and travel medicine recommendations generally suggest that travellers drink bottled water. Recently, however, members of a missionary group from Canada working in a Latin American country became ill after drinking bottled water purchased straight from a supplier. When their engineer tested the bottled water that they purchased, E.coli bacterial contamination was found.

So what can we do to stay well healthy and hydrated, especially when it is hot and sticky outside? In general, bottled water is safe. However, there have been reports from various countries of contaminated bottled water.

Be careful. In some countries, vendors and individuals may sell water in plastic bottles that have been refilled with contaminated tap or well water.

There are some precautions we can take:

  1. Examine the bottle carefully to see if the cap is secure and not too easily opened. The cap should snap in several places when you twist it. If it does not snap, the cap could have been glued on.
  2. Make sure you read the label carefully. Some manufacturers may produce containers that mimic or resemble international brands.
  3. Water from imported international suppliers maybe more expensive but often represent verifiable quality control processes to make it safe.
  4. Check to see if there is an expiration or “best by” date on the water bottle.
  5. In restaurants make sure bottled water is delivered to your table unopened and sealed.
  6. Check the water to make sure it is clear with no particles floating in it.
  7. After using your water bottle, flatten or crush it so it cannot be refilled.
  8. If you don’t trust the bottled water in the country you are visiting, you can choose to buy canned soda, beer or juices.
  9. Always try to use a straw to avoid putting your mouth on the bottle, can or glass to avoid any contaminated surfaces.
  10. If you are using bottled water to make infant formula make sure you avoid brands containing sodium or sulfates (mineral water).
  11. Buy a water purifier filtration device or boil your water for one minute (longer at high altitudes).

Diarrhea is one of the most common travel-associated illnesses. It is estimated to affect between 20 and 50 % of all travellers, a number that is nearly 10 million travellers.

There are better things to do while travelling than looking for a bathroom. Watching what water you drink can help reduce the need to search.

Do you have any horror stories of bad water? How about more tips for other travellers? If so, let us know in the comments below!

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