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Fly-by-night bottled water brands hit the headlines

‘Be wary of fly-by-night bottled water brands’ is the main take out from an article published this week on Business Insider SA. The South African National Bottled Water Association has put out this response…

According to Metcalf, the article highlighted that three bottles of water analysed as part of a study into water quality by researchers at Pretoria’s Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University were not fit for human consumption.

“For an organisation like SANBWA, whose members adhere to a standard that benchmarks favourably against other stringent standards found globally, the results of this study are exceedingly disturbing,” she said.


About SANBWA: SANBWA is a voluntary association of bottlers. It was formed in 1997 (in the absence of legislation) in response to the need for the natural bottled water industry to set regulatory standards.

These bottlers researched the accepted norms, standards and government regulations of more established natural bottled water markets before working with the Department of Health to draw up new legislation specifically based on the Codex Alimentarius to regulate and monitor the quality of local bottlers.


“As the introduction to the report compiled by the researchers said, the growth in the bottled water industry in South Africa has been fuelled by its citizens distrust of the water quality supplied by the government.

“This growth has attracted many new entrants into the market, but not all comply with the strict standards required the FC&D Act, the legislation that regulates all enterprises in South Africa packaging water for sale to the public.

“And these fly-by-night operators think nothing of bottling waters from unsuitable sources under unsanitary conditions and into packaging that might not even be sterile.

“One way that consumers can protect themselves is to look for the SANBWA logo on a bottle of water. This guarantees that the product is genuine natural mineral or spring water, and that the source is sustainable.

“It – importantly – also offers the consumer peace of mind that the product is from a source that has been vigorously checked for the absence of contamination and pollution, that the bottling facility is hygienic and operated according to good manufacturing practices, and that the necessary procedures are in place to ensure the quality of the product.”

Candice Jansen, a water sommelier and TikTok commentator, also responded to the study after contacting SANBWA for more information. Her post stressed that many in the bottled water industry were questioning the study, in particular whether the lab was accredited to perform all these tests and if it used the correct parameters when collating and interpreting its results.

SANBWA has reached out to the author identified in the report published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health for more detail about the methodology and parameters used. It awaits his response.

“We stress that SANBWA members’ water conforms to all relevant legislation and is safe for human consumption. Look for the SANBWA logo on a bottled water label to be assured of quality and safety. If a product does not display the logo ask yourself ‘Why not?’” concluded Metcalf

Additional information on SANBWA:

In South Africa, bottled water is a food product category of its own, and is regulated by the Department of Health as such. The legislation (R718) was ratified in 2007 in line with representations and recommendations from SANBWA, as well as international trends, and is among the most stringent worldwide. But it is not the only legislation bottlers must comply with. They also need to meet packaging and labelling, environmental and product safety requirements, for example.

The SANBWA Bottled Water Standard addresses all the current legislation and best practices for bottling water of all types in South Africa in one document. A pragmatic and useful tool, it benchmarks favourably against the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) as including all the relevant control points of global standards such as BRC, IFS, ISO22000, SANS 10330, SANS 1049 and the NSF Beverage standards.

The SANBWA Standard – its full title being ‘SANBWA Bottled Water Standard: Requirements for Source Water, Processing and Packaging’ – addresses all the current legislation and best practices for bottling water of all types in South Africa in one document. In other words, it is a single standard.

It covers all forms of packaged water defined by the legislation in the Foodstuffs Cosmetics and Disinfectant Act (Act 54 of 1972) Regulation R718, 28 July 2006 as amended by R800 of 31 July 2009: Regulations Relating to all Packaged Water as well as preparation of such waters used for making enhanced and/or flavoured waters, and sealed packaged water for use in water coolers.

This includes natural water, water defined by origin (including spring and mineral water) and prepared water. It excludes surface water which has not had municipal treatment to render it potable and bulk water for office coolers once the seals of containers have been broken to install on the dispenser equipment.

Compliance to all the requirements set out in the Standard is an assurance to retailers, consumers and the bottler that all legal and food safety requirements have been met. In summary:

  • it ensures legal compliance
  • is fully auditable so that a single audit can ensure that all legal and food safety requirements have been met, thereby protecting the bottler and enabling it to prove due diligence
  • helps bottlers identify areas where they still need to improve
  • assists retailers and consumers to select suppliers of safe bottled water
  • offers a natural progression from legal compliance to quality management systems and GFSI standard certification

The Standard (its table of content is shown here) provides the basis for SANBWA’s annual member plant audits by an independent third-party food safety organisation appointed by SANBWA. The audit confirms members’ conformance with the technical and regulatory requirements.

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