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I'm thinking about building a setup to make my own carbonated water. Should I be concerned that I'll be filling up my CO2 tank at Dick's Sporting Goods?

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up vote 21 down vote accepted

According to The Brewing Network, industrial and food grade CO2 generally come from the same plants:

The slight difference between industrial-grade CO2 and food-grade CO2 is the type of tests that are done to qualify CO2 as beverage or beer gas-grade compared to industrial-grade. Currently, the FDA's requirement for food-grade CO2 a 99.90% purity rating. The other .09% is made up of impurities such as hydrocarbons or nitrogen. Industrial grade CO2 is 99% pure CO2, also containing impurities such as hydrocarbons or nitrogen.

However, the nature of those impurities extremely important. They go on to suggest:

One impurity that all homebrewers should be aware of is benzene. Benzene is a no-no for homebrewers. If the CO2 that you are purchasing has high benzene levels, it will leave you and fellow drinkers with terrible headaches. When I say high levels, we are not talking about much. Benzene is usually an impurity that is referred to in PPB. The benzene level should be around 20 PPB.

They suggest you ask for a profile of the impurities, although I suspect that Dick's will be unable to comply. You will have to assess your own tolerance for risk, but you may better off seeking a more appropriate local vendor.

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Additionally sporting stores probably don't keep thier stuff as clean as a food prep place. – NBenatar Apr 23 '14 at 17:24
Benzene is also a carcinogen... so probably not something you want to be playing with. In the UK you're only allowed to sell things for "food" if you're regulated by the Food Standards Agency. I'm unaware whether anything similar happens in the US but if a company knowingly sold unfit goods for "food" (this is going to be part of a drink and therefore constitutes food) then the FDA could definitely get involved. – Ben Apr 23 '14 at 19:44

Not sure how it applies to C02 specifically, But Food-Grade, anything (in the US) means special requirements on transport and handling, which implies more expense. So even though the same plant may produce it, the pipes leaving the plant have to be food grade, the tanks the product goes into has to be food grade. The non-food grade version will go through less expensive /less-maintained/less-cleaned pipes and into similarly treated containers.

So your CO2 in a painball gun, could have oil in it (or remnants of oil) from any of the things it's passed through Tanks, Tubing, fittings, valves.... which won't hurt the gun, but would not be good for food uses. The other than oil, is lead, as most fittings (Brass) can and do contain lead, Most food grade CO2 fittings are stainless or aluminum to avoid lead contamination.

Food grade CO2 is so cheap for the little you need for carbonated water I wouldn't bother with paintball gun gass you get at Dicks. Its $21USD for a 25lb tank of food grade CO2 here in small town Michigan, with no deposit on the tank. I would expect it to be even cheaper in a larger city.

Ask around anywhere that sells kegs of beer. Food grade CO2 can be used to dispense beer, keeping it from going bad as fast as it does with hand pumps (Atmospheric Air). So some of your keg-beer shops will have it. All Pop Distributors will have it too since its required for both BiB and premix systems, but they tend to cost more for the same CO2.

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I do have a setup, and I do this my self. Altho I more commonly re-carbonate flat pop, than carbonate plain water. Its quick easy and cheap. – user5211 Apr 23 '14 at 21:32

Serious Eats just took on this issue. After some explanation of what "food grade" means as it relates to CO2, they go on to say,

I got in touch with Dave Arnold, a carbonated-cocktail pioneer, and he told me that although he gets his carbon dioxide from a 'welding supply' place, that same source also supplies carbon dioxide to the food industry and medical industry. As long as you tell the supplier you intend to use the gas for food applications, they should be able to give you the right type.

So start by asking the folks at your local homebrew shop or restaurants that use CO2.

In summary: before you go in on a tank of gas, check out whether there are good places to get it filled near you. If they don't know what you're talking about, stay away and find a different supplier who understands that you need everything you use to be food-safe. But ultimately, this is a DIY job and you (the DIY-er) need to be ok with assuming the responsibility of ensuring all your components and ingredients are safe for whoever you plan to serve your drinks to.

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Food grade CO2 is not meant for human consumption. For that, you should use Beverage Grade, which is more pure than Medical Grade. Both major soft drink companies have Beverage Grade as their minimum guideline. Food Grade CO2 is a dirty gas that isn't tested for several carcinogens...because it isn't meant to be ingested. You need to go to CO2 providers that only handle Beverage Grade, because once you put Beverage Grade CO2 in a container that has Food Grade (or worse), then you no longer have Beverage Grade CO2.

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Food Grade for something not meant to be ingested is a misleading name. – Paparazzi Jun 8 at 18:30

And a year later, the definitive answer: There is a difference, but not one you need to care about. CO2 is used when packaging red meat and other foodstuff to prevent the color to turn gray. Oxygen caused this change. Food grade CO2 therefore is specified with very little oxygen. Industrial CO2 is not guaranteed to have very little oxygen. Oxygen is of no concern in any other food application.

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As other answers suggest, non-food grade CO2 may contain other impurities that you wouldn't want to consume. I find it difficult to judge how dangerous this advice is and since you provide no sources, I'm voting down for safety's sake. – Chris Steinbach Apr 18 '15 at 19:05
It's actually CO, not CO2, that's used to treat meat. CO is something you definitely don't want in your carbonated beverage! – mrog Oct 19 '15 at 18:42

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