Water is essential. It’s a must. And so, when something threatening lingers on the horizon, the bottled-water aisle empties first. When the threat has passed, however, it doesn’t always take the bottled water with it. These jugs and gallons and quarts sit in our pantries and basements and garages. We’re left wondering — six months, a year, two years later — if this water is still safe to drink.
How long, exactly, does bottled water last?
It’s just water, right? It’s capped and sealed airtight, isn’t it? It should last forever, shouldn’t it? In theory, yes. But let’s dig into the nitty gritty.
Does bottled water expire?
In 2019, a water-contamination crisis in Newark, New Jersey led to area officials distributing bottles of water from their stored emergency supplies. One water crisis almost begat another water crisis: several of the stored bottles were older than the “best by” dates printed on them.
The situation begged the question: Is it safe to drink “expired” water?
The short answer, as Newark officials would learn, is yes.
The Food & Drug Administration regulates bottled water in the United States. It considers bottled water a food and affords bottled water many of the same safeguards. According to Food Safety magazine, “manufacturers are responsible for producing safe, wholesome and truthfully labeled food products, including bottled water products.”
The FDA’s bottled-water regulations encompass everything from safe and sanitary bottling practices to safe transportation and distribution. However, as FDA officials wrote in a letter to the mayor of Newark in 2019, bottled water appears to have an unlimited shelf life, so long as it’s “produced properly and is unopened.”
“Based on that information,” the letter continued, “we believe that this water is safe to drink.”
The FDA’s response answered some questions, but it also led to more.
How do you safely store bottled water?
Time may not be a concern when it comes to the freshness and safety of bottled water, but other factors could be.
Let’s start with heat. High temperatures have been shown to affect the quality of water bottled in plastic. And, as storage temperatures rise, so do the risks. A 2007 study published in ScienceDirect found that plastic bottles of water stored at 150 degrees Fahrenheit showed levels of antimony, a potential carcinogen, higher than FDA limits after 38 days. At 167 degrees Fahrenheit, however, the water reached these levels after only five days.
As Consumer Reports noted, “while that may seem like a lot, in the summer and in direct sun, temperatures can easily get higher than that. So water left in the trunk of your car for a week or so could produce dangerous levels.”
To be safe, the International Bottled Water Association, or IBWA, advises storing bottled water in a cool place. If that cool place is away from sunlight, all the better.
As with heat, prolonged exposure to sun may lead to mold and algae growth in bottled water. The IBWA says “this is not a general concern for public health,” but in order to keep your bottled water at its freshest and most delicious, storing it in a cool, dark place such as a pantry or basement, and away from direct sunlight, will help.
Water bottled in plastic vs. water bottled in glass
Many of the above storage-safety concerns involve plastic water bottles. What about water bottled in glass?
Glass has several advantages over plastic. As The Washington Post noted in 2019: “Because glass is made of natural materials, there is no danger of inorganic chemicals leaching into liquids when it’s heated or cooled.”
Glass water bottles are also more environmentally friendly than plastic or even waxed-cardboard packaging. According to the Understanding Packaging Scorecard, a tool used to assess the sustainability impacts of various food-storage packaging, glass water bottles, which are endlessly recyclable and often reusable, offer the best overall sustainability thanks to the lack of chemicals used in glass production and its ease of recoverability.
“(T)he glass bottle is the best option,” Dianna Cohen, CEO of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, told Gizmodo in 2021.
That said, to preserve the freshness and flavor of water bottled in glass, experts still recommend storing it in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight, same as you would plastic water bottles.
How long does bottled water last … after it’s been opened?
While closed bottles of water will likely be safe to drink for years on end, opening a bottle of water dramatically shortens its lifespan. Once a bottle of water is exposed to the elements — those in the air as well as those on and in the drinker’s hands and mouths — all of the sanitation efforts that go into safely packaging that water no longer apply.
Open bottles of water should be consumed as quickly as possible for the best freshness and purity. If needed, open water bottles should be stored in the fridge to slow bacterial growth. According to the shelf-life gurus at Still Tasty, a continuously refrigerated bottle of water can maintain quality for four to six days after opening.
How long does sparkling water last?
Like bottled still water or spring water, bottled sparkling water is also likely to remain safe to drink for years on end provided the packaging is undamaged and it’s properly stored away from heat and sunlight. However, bottled sparkling water will lose some of its signature bubbles with time.
Experts say the “expiration” dates printed on sparkling water are more like “best used by” dates. They are an estimate made by the manufacturer as to how long that batch of sparkling water is likely to stay at premium quality. When trying out old or potentially expired sparkling water, a little common sense goes a long way. Instead of drinking it straight from its bottle or can, pour the sparkling water into a glass or cup. Check for bubbliness and be sure to discard the water if it has any off odors or color.
Once open, sparkling water can stay fresh for two to three days if resealed and properly refrigerated.
Mountain Valley Spring Water — A bottled-water company that’s lasted 150 years
At Mountain Valley, we pride ourselves on our longevity — on lasting (and lasting, and lasting). Since 1871, we’ve bottled our spring and sparkling waters directly from our protected source deep in the heart of Arkansas’s Ouachita Mountains. We deliver our crisp, refreshing and award-winning waters to homes and offices coast to coast across the United States, packaged in our signature glass bottles and jugs, as well as in our new, lightweight, go-anywhere aluminum bottles.Water as purely delicious as Mountain Valley’s is meant to last. It’s what’s fueled us for more than 150 years. Let it fuel and refresh you, too. Click here to learn about Mountain Valley Spring Water’s home and office delivery.