Culligan of Mid Missouri is the largest producer of premium drinking water in our multi-state region. Our plant operates five days a week, often more during peak usage periods and during water emergencies. We have been bottling water at our current location in Columbia, Missouri since 1992 and follow all FDA food handling and IBWA water production regulations. We have never had an adverse inspection nor have we ever been cited for any regulatory infractions such as improper handling procedures, improper processes, or contaminations.
While the process begins with municipal water as its source, the final product is far from anything resembling the tap water you get from your faucet. The finished water we bottle and deliver to our customers has gone through 7 distinct production stages and numerous quality checks and controls. In very real terms the only thing left in our water from the municipal source is H2O – Pure water. Read on to see how we do it.
The pressure of the incoming source water is mechanically boosted by an electronically controlled, variable, multi-stage centrifugal pump to maintain a constant 100psi.
1.) When the proper pressure is achieved we begin the purification process by directing flow through an industrial water softener. This conditions the water by removing metal cations. These are positively charged “hard water” particles, such as dissolved magnesium and calcium.
2.) The conditioned water is then passed through 12 cubic feet of activated carbon. This carbon bed removes trihalomethanes (undesirable and potentially hazardous byproducts of the municipal disinfection process), free chlorine, chloramines (a chemical produced by combining chlorine and ammonia which is used in Columbia’s municipal water treatment as a disinfectant) and other volatile organic compounds (known as VOCs).
3.) With the organic compounds removed the water is then filtered through a dual gradient polypropylene medium. This stage effectively captures suspended particles in the water down to 5 microns or 20 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Now the water is “ready” for the next stage – Reverse Osmosis
4.) Still utilizing the constant pressure achieved at the beginning of the process, the water is forced through a semi-permeable membrane. This “filters” the water at the molecular level. At this point our water, which from the source averaged 336 parts per million (ppm) of total dissolved solids (TDS), now has a TDS reading of just 5.7 ppm. A 98.3% reduction in total dissolved solids. Many water producers would be more than satisfied with this as the final product – but Culligan is not.
5.) From the reverse osmosis system the water goes through a 2 step deionization process further purifying it to laboratory grade. Water at this level of purity (called ultra-pure) is usually specified in terms of electrical resistivity (the resistance or inability to conduct electrical current) expressed in ohms(Ω) per centimeter. After the deionizing tanks our water has a resistivity of 17,200,000 ohms per centimeter. For perspective, the tap water here in Columbia, which is not pure enough to be specified in terms of electrical resistance and must be expressed in terms of resistivity’s reciprocal, conductivity, has an average conductivity of 750 microsiemens per centimeter. If you were to express that in ohms it would be .00134 ohms/cm. Much closer to our water, at the other end of the purity scale, is molecularly pure water (literally two hydrogen atoms with 1 oxygen atom, which is all but impossible to maintain and handle in the real world). This “perfect” water is only nominally more pure than ours with resistivity readings at 18.2 million ohms/cm. The now virtually “pure” water is moved to a 4,600 gallon stainless steel vessel to enable the dissipation of dissolved gasses. This holding tank incorporates a .02 micron nanofiltration venting system to aid in degassing and to protect the water from air-born contaminates until it is ready for final processing.
6.) Once the water is properly degassed, it is pumped into the first of 2 ozone reactor sites as a fail-safe disinfectant. Ozone reaction is ideal at this point in the process because it utilizes pure oxygen molecules with 3 oxygen atoms or O3 (oxygen molecules in normal air have only 2 atoms of oxygen). This produces a very aggressive disinfectant action without adding any adverse chemicals, tastes or odors to the ultra-pure water. The O3 literally bubbles back out of the water which already has enough oxygen atoms to be stable in the presence of ozone (O3). At this point in production the water meets Culligan’s standards for purity. However, it is not “Culligan Water” yet. In fact, the water is so pure at this stage that it would be unhealthy to consume on a regular basis. However, by attaining this level of purity we now control exactly what is (and isn’t) in our drinking water. As any chef knows the purer the ingredients you start with the more control you have over the final product. Since water is our main ingredient, making sure it is consistently pure allows us to make consistently delicious premium drinking water – and that is what we do next.
7.) The purified water is pumped into a contact tank through a vortex (think of a high speed mixing bowl without the beaters). There, following our specific (and secret) formula, trace amounts of food grade minerals (potassium, magnesium and calcium) are introduced into the water to provide the healthy electrolytes your body needs and the crisp Culligan flavor we all enjoy. Now, finally, it is Culligan Water.
Now the water is passed through the final ozone reaction site to “protect” it as it is fed to the automatic bottling machine. At the bottler a technician inspects incoming bottles for defects and imperfections and loads them into the receiver where they are washed and sanitized following FDA regulations. The machine moves the bottles through the sanitizer and into the filling station were they are automatically filled with Culligan Water and sealed with a cap that is simultaneously sanitized by a spray of ozinated rinse. The bottles are transported to racks were they must sit for 48 hours to allow for the natural dissipation of the final ozone treatment. After the required “rest” the bottles are loaded onto trucks to be delivered to your home, your office or wherever fresh clean Culligan drinking water is needed.
The process above has been somewhat simplified for the purpose of this forum. Also excluded from the sequence are the quality checks and computerized controls we have in place to guarantee the final product conforms to our rigid standards. High-tech in-line TDS, resistivity and pressure meters and controllers monitor quality and flow rates from before the water even enters the initial booster pump and at each critical stage of production. Samples from specific stages during each production run are taken and analyzed in our on-site laboratory and our results are verified by a certified independent lab. Samples are also retained and provided to the FDA for analysis in accordance with federal regulations. In addition, our process, our product and our production facility are subject to both, regularly scheduled and unannounced inspections. All of this is to ensure the quality and safety of the final product.
So that is how we make Culligan Bottled Water. Obviously, it is much more involved than what most bottled water producers do to make their product. However, it is what it takes to produce the healthy, delicious, premium drinking water our customers have come to love and expect.