It might not have an expiration date, but that doesn’t mean bottled water will last forever.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the bottled water industry but doesn’t require an expiration date to be listed. Despite this, the recommended shelf life for still water is two years, and for sparkling, just one.
This limited life span has very little to do with the water itself and more with the plastic bottle it comes in. The water doesn’t go bad, but contaminants can leach through the bottle over time.
Problems With Permeable Plastic Bottles
As Zane Satterfield, an engineer scientist with the National Environmental Services Center at West Virginia University, explains, if you keep pre-packaged water for more than 12 months,
“Some of the water will evaporate during that time, which is proof that the plastic isn’t impermeable.”
In other words, if water can escape from a sealed plastic bottle, contaminants can get in just as easily. That means you’re now at risk from external contaminants in addition to the chemicals and microplastics leaking from the plastic bottle itself.
This isn’t good news for those trying to stockpile for an emergency. Best practice is to switch out your bottled water supply every couple of years.
Do Microplastics Affect The Shelf Life Of Bottled Water?
Many brands of bottled water contain microplastics the moment you buy them. Then again, microplastics are everywhere these days, so we can’t exactly avoid them. However, we can limit the amount we put into our bodies, which means being cautious about our bottled water consumption.
If a liter of bottled water already contains 10.4 plastic particles when you buy it, imagine how many will be there once the plastic bottle starts to break down!
Perhaps that’s just my over-active imagination getting the better of me. After all, experts say
“there is no data with regard to increased shedding of plastics from water bottles due to the influence of time.”
What Chemical Dangers Lurk In Bottled Water?
So, let’s assume we have nothing to worry about in terms of swallowing large quantities of plastic with our “pure” bottled water. Now, researchers say, all we have to worry about is a chemical known as antimony.
Antimony is a silvery metal thought to cause various heart and lung problems. It’s present in almost all single-use plastic water bottles and can, studies show, leach into the water at an alarming rate.
In 2007, researchers found that the hotter it is, the faster antimony leaches out of the plastic and into the water.
Their experiments showed that water stored at 150° F takes 38 days to show antimony levels above FDA limits. If stored at 167° F, it takes just five.
Antimony isn’t the only chemical you need to worry about either. Many plastic bottles contain polyethylene terephthalate (PET). If you expose those bottles to excessive heat, particles from that PET may leach into the water.
The effects of those particles can range from mild changes in how the water tastes to severe medical issues.
How to Extend The Shelf Life of Bottled Water
Swap Out The Plastic Bottles
The best way to keep your water fresher for longer is to store it in a different water container instead of a plastic bottle. The better the quality of the container you use for your water, the longer it will last.
Never Store Bottles That You’ve Already Drunk From
Once you’ve put your mouth to the rim of a bottle, you’ve contaminated it with dust, sweat, and saliva, all of which contain bacteria. Once in the water, the bacteria will grow, making the water unsafe to drink.
Store Your Water At An Ambient Temperature
Sunlight and heat accelerate the rate at which chemicals in the plastic bottles leach into the water. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend storing your water out of direct sunlight and at a temperature of between 50 and 70°F.
Store Your Water Away From Household Chemicals
As plastic bottles are permeable, ambient gases could contaminate the water, affecting its taste and odor. Keeping your bottled water away from household chemicals, cleaning products, and other potential contaminants will extend its shelf life.
Bottled water is still safe to drink two years after you purchase it. After this, it could become contaminated with dangerous chemicals and bacteria.
Although water that’s past this expiration date probably won’t hurt you, it’s simply not worth the risk in a survival situation.
With those two items, you can access fresh water by boiling it or filtering it with your survival straw.