Dan Rattiner's Stories

Does Bottled Water Expire? Some Basic Rules of Thumb

Ever notice that expiration dates on some things in your refrigerator are much farther down the road than others? Milk should typically be drunk within a week. A bottle of orange juice gets two months. I’ve seen expiration dates going forward for years. I think peanut butter is good for three years, for example. Rum lasts ten. Or twenty. But we all know that when you open whatever it is, all bets are off.

One thing that I never see an expiration date on is bottles of water. Why is that? Is it the fact that water never goes bad? I think that’s it. The water is down there in the aquifer below ground, and after one way or another it gets brought up and bottled in Fiji or the French Alps or Portland, Oregon, or wherever else they bottle it, it’s still good, apparently, forever.

Decades ago, a guy formed a company out here and started bottling water from the Hamptons to be sold in Fiji or France or other exotic locations. The local authorities tried to shut him down. They said his water came from the underground aquifer that sits under Long Island (which it did) and he may own the land he bought but that doesn’t mean he could pump out everybody’s water. I don’t recall if it went to court or not. But anyway, the company shut down.

I sometimes imagine a huge freighter bringing Evian water from France crossing the Atlantic so we can drink it here, while people in France for that brief time got freighter loads of water from the Hamptons. Perhaps the two freighters passed each other off the Azores. As you know, freighters burn the cheapest and most polluting diesel fuel made. The smoke and carbon line the atmosphere with pollutants. But who cares, they used to say. It’s the vast ocean.

It just doesn’t matter to anybody that the rain falls, the water evaporates and rises to become clouds, and the clouds move softly along to somewhere else to rain. People always think the grass is greener. Can’t have it any other way.

Like many people, I’ve taken to carrying a bottle of water with me wherever I go every day. In recent years, my doctor has always dismissed me with the admonition “stay hydrated.” So I take sips every hour.

I do, like many people, buy my bottled water in store coolers. I know there are no expiration dates. But then, I still have questions. I think water CAN go bad.

For example, if I drink half of a bottle of water and then leave it in the car overnight, is it still good? Here are my rules. If the drinker’s just me, then the bottle is still good for a second day. But not a third day. By then, my mouth germs are heading out. But if I’ve left it in the car on a hot night and the car is still hot in the morning, the germs got out early. I dump it. Another rule: If a passenger in my car drank some of my water, then it’s not good even the next day. Why take a chance?

But I do think of the environment. When my bottle is empty, sometimes I will, instead of throwing it out or finding a place to recycle it, just refill it from the tap in the kitchen. Or maybe—and this is really first class—I refill it from the water I get from the refrigerator door. Many refrigerators have a spout in the door where you can fill a glass.

Refrigerator water, in my view, really can be drunk for days and days. Everybody’s germs have been filtered out. Nearly all the junk underground that might have leached into the aquifer is filtered out. And whatever bad stuff did get through is ice cold from the refrigerator and so that bad stuff is still asleep. Finally, it’s all done right there, in the refrigerator, so this is the ultimate in what environmentalists tell you to do, which is to “buy local.”

I do think that filtered, ice cold water from your refrigerator here in the Hamptons is probably the best water there is. It could be the toast of France. Even Mongolia. Should we give it another shot?

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