The highly-ranked Delhi Belly question has a number of answers that allege bottled water from minor/unknown brands may be contaminated or otherwise unsafe.

Now I've heard of tap water being sold as spring water (primarily in the West, where tap water is safe to drink anyway). I've also heard of various scams involving refilling empty bottles with sketchy water and reselling them to clueless tourists, with India in particular once being notorious for this, and many guides still instruct you to both buy only double-sealed bottles (plastic & cap) and crush used bottles to avoid this.

However, I've drunk plenty of exceedingly sketchy looking but properly factory-sealed bottles of water (Exhibit A below), and as far as I know I've never gotten sick from one.

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So: is properly sealed bottled water ever unsafe? Research and news articles preferred over anecdotes.

Clarification: I'm aware there have been incidents of lead in tap water, bottled water being accidentally contaminated with chemicals, etc. I'm really more interested in cases of people drinking bottled water and immediately getting violently ill (Delhi belly style), the way you would in many places if you drank tap water contaminated by sewage etc.

  • 2
    In several western countries in some locations tap water is spring water and in those locations companies are allowed to fill from the tap and call it spring water.
    – Willeke
    Feb 5, 2021 at 9:13
  • Both bottled water and tap water can be unsafe. There are instances even in the USA where bottled water has been discovered to be unsafe consumerreports.org/bottled-water/… theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/24/… This might not be what you mean by your question, because there is the possibility of contamination either by manufacturing errors or deliberately in any product.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 5, 2021 at 13:09
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    lamb, I'm unsure if this is relevant to your question, but are you aware of the famous "Perrier (!) benzene" incident back in the 90s? chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1990-05-21-9002110442-story.html
    – Fattie
    Feb 5, 2021 at 13:40
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    @Willeke and in other places "spring water" may actually be worse than tap water when it comes to chemical and biological contaminants.
    – jwenting
    Feb 9, 2021 at 11:41
  • @jwenting, if you read my answer you see that in the Netherlands the quality requirements for tap water are higher than for bottled water. But usually bottled spring water should be safe, cases where it is not do make the news.
    – Willeke
    Feb 9, 2021 at 15:58

2 Answers 2


The generic plastic bottle cap can be sealed outside of a factory. If you ever bought craft beer on tap take away, they will pour it in a plastic bottle and then seal it with a plastic cap. Then it looks completely legit.

Plastic cap can be put on a bottle together with the plastic ring which holds it fast. But then it will hold the bottle with plastic spikes and will not go off without breaking ring apart from the cap.

So it's totally unsurprising that somebody could easily replenish empty water bottles.

  • I'm not asking about fake/refilled bottles, but factory-sealed ones. Also, in India the big brands are capped & shrink-wrapped, which is not worth the effort to fake. Feb 9, 2021 at 14:23
  • Shrink-wrapping should help, otherwise you will not be able to tell factory-capped from manually capped bottle.
    – alamar
    Feb 9, 2021 at 14:27
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    alamar I totally can shrink-wrap at home. @lambshaanxy if you can't see the difference, then info of legitimately factory sealed bottles has no practical purpose or application. I find this answer to be a really nice example of a frame challenge answer.
    – Mołot
    Jul 26, 2021 at 8:05
  • @Molot Water bottles don't use regular shrink wrap, it's typically printed, perforated plastic. Jul 26, 2021 at 13:35

Yes, sealed water bottles can be unsafe.

If you look at the comments on the question, two different links are given for historic events in the western world, well known brands.
(Link one, by from a comment by @Stuart F)
(Link two, from a comment by @Fattie)

And this is from companies that are/were reputed to be safe. In my country, the Netherlands, the quality rules for bottled water are lower than for tap water, although still high enough for safe water as a rule.

In the whole world it is a case of trust in the company and the location you bought it.

Some people are extremely good in re-filling bottles and making you think that it is factory filled, but even real factory filled bottles do have a bit of risk.
On the whole, much less of a risk than tap water in areas where the tap water is not safe, but there is never 'no risk'.

Many of the contaminations that result in Delhi Belly and alike do not stay alive long in closed off water bottles, days maybe, weeks in some bad cases but water which has been bottled for a longer time will mostly show a different kind of contamination.

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