By Rick Andrew

Have you ever noticed that although water can vary in taste significantly from source to source, fountain beverages dispensed at restaurants nearly always taste exactly as you would expect? There is a very good reason for this—taste is critical to soft drink companies, who brand their products based on unique and consistent good taste. How is it that the soft drink companies and restaurants are able to achieve the consistent, pleasing taste they need to effectively brand their products when the main ingredient, water, is so highly variable in its taste characteristics? Through treatment, of course!

Treatment technologies for fountain beverage applications
Water treatment technologies used for fountain beverage applications commonly include sediment filters, carbon filters (including carbon blocks and granular activated carbon), scale-control cartridges, reverse osmosis and hollow-fiber membranes. There are undoubtedly others used in specialized applications.

These technologies are applied based on source-water characteristics, and on desired water characteristics for the particular fountain beverage application, whether it be soft drinks or coffee. Optimal water characteristics for making coffee and tea differ from the optimal type of water for mixing carbonated soft drinks.

Many large beverage companies have performed extensive research into the optimal water chemistry for their specific products. Large soft drink producers know exactly what aspects of water chemistry influence the taste of their beverages, both positively and negatively. For instance, they may be very concerned about residual chlorine or chloramines. Large coffee and tea producers may have very different concerns, such as levels of total dissolved solids and hardness, for example. This knowledge, coupled with knowledge about water treatment technologies, has led to the development of highly specialized products for water treatment in fountain beverage applications.

Fountain beverage systems and NSF/ANSI 42
In 2005, NSF/ANSI 42 was modified to include requirements for commercial modular systems. These requirements were added to address the unique fountain beverage water treatment equipment market. The definition of these systems can be found in Figure 1.

Note that commercial modular systems are intended specifically for fountain beverage applications, and are not meant for consumer installations. The reason for this restriction is that these systems are configurable in the field, depending on local water conditions. There can be an array of possible treatment elements that can fit into these manifolds and provide a variety of functions across multiple-use patterns. This open-ended configuration would be very confusing to consumers, and could result in some very inappropriate installations. A prime example of a potentially flawed application would be the installation of two dissimilar modular elements in parallel.

These potential consumer installation pitfalls are avoided with proper application of commercial modular systems, because they are required by the standard to be installed by a water treatment professional or licensed plumber. This requirement is made clear on the system manifold, and on the modular elements themselves, as described in Figure 2. Beyond simply ensuring minimal functionality, these expert installers can optimize the configuration of modular elements for the flow requirements, treatment needs and water characteristics of the particular installation.

Figure 1. Definition of commercial modular system
Commercial modular system: A system consisting of multiple modular elements attached to a manifold, produced specifically for fountain beverage applications, installed by an authorized plumber or authorized agent of the manufacturer, and not intended for use in residential applications.
From NSF/ANSI 42 Section 3.13

Figure 2. Application statements for commercial modular systems
Commercial modular manifolds require the following information on a permanent plate or label affixed in a readily accessible location:
—The statements “Not for residential use. Fountain beverage applications only. To be installed by an authorized plumber or an authorized representative of the manufacturer only.”

Modular elements require the following information on a permanent plate or label affixed in a readily accessible location:
—Statement that this modular element is NOT for use in residential applications
From NSF/ANSI 42 Section 8.2.2

Figure 3. Additional performance data sheet requirements for commercial modular systems
—A performance data sheet may be developed for each modular element of the system, and/or for a group of modular elements;
—The performance data sheet shall include all of the configurations, providing the following information for each:
—Tested performance claims;
—Rated service flow in L/min or L/day (gpm or gpd);
—Rated capacity/rated service life in L (gal) (if applicable);
—Maximum working pressure in kPa (psig); and
—Maximum operating temperature in degrees C (degrees F).
From NSF/ANSI 42 Section 8.4.3

The advantage of these provisions is to allow for a straightforward certification path for these systems that can have so many permutations on their capabilities in the field. This path includes the ability of the manufacturer to provide claims and capacity information specific to a modular element on the element itself. The configurable manifold that forms the backbone of the system is certified as a component of the system, meeting the standard’s requirements for material safety and structural integrity. Additionally, the manifold must be sized such that velocity through it does not exceed 10 feet per second. This requirement helps ensure even flow through identical modular elements installed in parallel.

The manufacturer then provides a performance data sheet for each possible configuration of the modular system, providing the information included in Figure 3 in addition to the information typically required on a performance data sheet.

The importance of certification
The standards define requirements for products. How products are evaluated to the standard is a different question. One answer is independent testing. This can be a good option, as it provides important information regarding the product. Certification takes this evaluation a step further, beyond testing only, to a more complete evaluation. The advantages of certification include:

Assessment of product changes over time. Testing is an evaluation at only one point in time, and falls short of addressing changes to the product subsequent to testing. These changes, depending on what they are, can significantly impact conformance of the product to the standard. Alternatively, certification evaluates changes as they occur to ensure continued conformance to the standard. Certified products must also be re-tested periodically as an additional check on product conformance.

Evaluation of all relevant product characteristics. Testing may be conducted for specific aspects of the product, while ignoring others. Certification, on the other hand, requires a complete evaluation of all relevant product characteristics as required by the standard.

Testing strictly to the standard. Product testing is always conducted to specific protocols; however, those protocols may or may not match those in the standard. It is possible to modify the protocols to suit specific products or conditions, which may result in testing that is not indicative of how the product would fare if tested strictly to the standard. Certification, however, requires testing precisely to the requirements of the standard.

Needs addressed by certification
Water treatment manufacturers have developed highly specialized products to suit fountain beverage applications. Much the way chain restaurants strive to provide a consistent meal from location to location, national soft drink and other beverage producers have great interest in delivering products with a consistent, branded taste. It is rarely, if ever, that we encounter an off-tasting nationally branded soft drink or coffee.

The consistent taste delivered through fountain outlets is not only an indication of the commitment of the beverage companies and restaurants to quality, but also necessitates an understanding of the water chemistry parameters that influence taste, a knowledge of how to treat those parameters, and a proper application of water treatment technologies.

When specifying and choosing certified fountain beverage treatment products, beverage companies and installers can be confident that the products will perform as advertised and treat the water as they are expecting, while also maintaining consumer safety and protection of public health as the primary focus.

About the author
Rick Andrew is Operations Manager of the NSF Drinking Water Treatment Units Program for certification of POU/POE systems and components. Prior to joining NSF, his previous experience was in the area of analytical and environmental chemistry consulting. Andrew holds a Bachelor’s Degree in chemistry and an MBA from the University of Michigan. He can be reached at (800) NSF-MARK or email:


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