Generations have consumed or bathed in mineral waters, claiming benefits from water that has filtered down through layers of stone and shale that are called "aquifers". Aquifers are underground reservoirs isolated from surrounding areas, often by large barriers of clay or because they are located in areas characterized by extensive volcanism. They provide clean, clear water that is rich in minerals such as calcium, potassium, sodium, fluoride, magnesium, carbonates, nitrates, sulfates and other minerals. Some mineral waters are pumped, whereas some comes to the surface naturally as artesian wells or springs. When bottled to sell as a beverage, a "natural mineral water" by definition must contain at least 250 parts per million (ppm) total dissolved solids of these chemicals. Sparkling mineral water may pick up naturally occurring carbon dioxide as it travels through the layers of the aquifer or it may have carbon dioxide introduced during the bottling process.
Many countries are blessed with regions that have volcanic aquifers and springs, and thus have substantial mineral water industries. For bottling, the water is pumped from the source to holding tanks where it is tested and its mineral and metal contents are recorded. Where the source may also contain pockets of carbon dioxide (common in volcanic aquifers), the gas is pumped into a separate holding area where it is stored under pressure. Other producers produce or buy carbon dioxide to be used in the production process. Many producers make their own containers, controlling the entire production process in one facility. Plants that operate within or export to the United States must meet FDA requirements. Other regulations and standards are dictated by the country of origin, European Union, International Bottled Water Association and NSF International.
As the water is piped to the bottling line or as it is piped into bottles (depending on the process), pressurized carbon dioxide is passed through the water. Bottling temperature and gas pressure will determine the size of the bubbles of carbon dioxide left in the water as the container is capped and date-coded. Sparkling mineral water may have no more added carbon dioxide than occurs naturally in the mineral water as it emerges from the source. If more than the natural level is added, the water is considered "carbonated" rather than "sparkling". Bottled waters are date-coded because water will lose effervescence---and turn stale---after sitting in a bottle or can for an extended period of time. Bottles must be labeled giving the chemical contents, source, and location of the plants where they were processed. Each batch is checked for consistency and purity, the supply lines and bottling machinery are cleaned or flushed with disinfectant and the next batch is begun.
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