State’s emergency supply of bottled water was expired. Was it safe to drink?

Posted Aug 14, 2019

The water was finally starting to be distributed to affected residents, but it was expired.

The distribution of bottled water to more than 14,000 households at risk for lead contamination was temporarily halted in Newark on Tuesday, after the city noticed the bottles were past their “best by” dates.

But is bottled water unsafe to drink if it’s technically expired?

The answer is no, according to the U.S. Federal Drug Administration, which considers bottled water to have “an indefinite shelf life.”

New Jersey is the only state that officially requires bottled water to have expiration dates, though it’s unclear what prompted it, according to the Wall Street Journal. The regulation started in 1987, the article said.

The expiration dates may be attributed to two reasons: possible degradation of the plastic and the chance of increased bacteria, explained Kevin Olsen, PhD, a chemistry research technician and adjunct professor at Montclair State University.

“Bottled water is tested for bacteria and chemical contamination by the bottler,” said Olsen. “There are very strict standards for how much bacteria is allowed to be in the water.”

Olsen pointed out because of the strict standards imposed during the bottling process, there’s “minimal risk of exposure to bacteria regardless of the expiration date.”

Certain factors can also increase the risk of chemical exposure in the water, due to the bottle’s plastic container.

“The risk of the bottle leaching chemicals into the water inside increases with age, high temperatures, and exposure to sunlight,” he said.

Ready, a public service campaign that educates people about emergencies as part of the Department of Homeland Security, advises buying commercially bottled water and storing it in the sealed original container in a cool, dark place.

The bottled water in Newark’s case had a “best by” date of May 2019.

State and city officials said water does not expire.

“That dating of water is not mandatory and has nothing to do with health aspects of the water,” Newark spokesman Frank Baraff said in an earlier NJ Advance Media Article. He said the city stopped water distribution Tuesday morning until 3 p.m. as officials waited for new water supplies.

In the meantime, Baraff said residents can pick up the old water should they choose. A state official said 20,000 cases were delivered to Newark from the state’s emergency supply starting Sunday. It’s not clear how many of these cases have been handed out.

“We are distributing with them a letter from the (Department of Health) attesting to fact that there is no issue,” Baraff said. “Some people are rejecting the water, some people are accepting it.”

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