Paula Brown, director of the Natural Health and Food Products Research Group at the BC Institute of Technology, shown in this undated handout image, is involved in testing of over 700 samples of kombucha from around Canada, the United States and one producer in Australia to determine if alcohol levels are above legal limits. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-British Columbia Institute of Technology *MANDATORY CREDIT*

B.C. site testing over 700 samples of kombucha for alcohol levels

Drinks with more than 1.1% alcohol must list it on the label

The popular fermented drink kombucha is considered a healthy beverage containing good-for-the-gut probiotics but the BC Centre for Disease Control is concerned some products may have higher-than-regulated levels of alcohol.

The centre is working with the BC Institute of Technology, which is testing the last of about 760 samples of the beverage.

Lorraine McIntyre, the centre’s food safety specialist, said the impetus for the research came partly from concerns that some kombucha products in the Maritimes may contain more alcohol than levels allowed by Health Canada or the province, where any amount of alcohol must be listed on labels.

The federal regulator requires beverages containing more than 1.1 per cent alcohol by volume to stipulate how much booze is in them, she said, adding beverages containing one per cent alcohol are not considered to be liquor in British Columbia and Ontario, though levels vary slightly by province. The allowable amount in the United States is 0.5 per cent alcohol by volume.

The samples that are being tested were collected in the Vancouver area from producers located in B.C., Alberta, Quebec, Ontario and the United States. One came from a producer in Australia.

The research was also prompted by issues in the U.S., where bottles of kombucha have been found to have more than the legal limit of alcohol, McIntyre said.

Alcohol is a normal byproduct of the fermentation process but levels can increase as kombucha products sit, especially if they’re not refrigerated, she said, adding consumers should know how much alcohol is present in the green- or black-tea based beverages that are infused with fruit, mint, ginger and other flavours.

“We really want consumers to make an informed choice so kombucha may not be the right beverage for everyone and particularly this isn’t a beverage you should feed to young children or if you’re pregnant and you want to avoid alcohol to protect your baby.”

The products being tested by the research group were collected by the centre’s food safety specialists and environmental health officers from regional health authorities who visited various places including grocery stores, restaurants, farmers markets and production facilities.

The centre is expected to report its findings at the end of the month.

Paula Brown, director of the BC Institute of Technology’s Natural Health and Food Products Research Group, said various methods exist to test the level of alcohol in non-alcohol beer or booze produced in a distillery but kombucha presents some challenges because it contains sugar, yeast, micro-organisms and possible additives.

“It’s not just water and alcohol in it. The bottles can have any number of flavourings and I’ve even seen bottles that have quinoa,” she said, adding the tea bases can contain chemical compounds that can affect the fermentation process.

Brown said a method developed by the research group to measure ethanol levels in kombucha production and during storage is being used as part of the study with the BC Centre for Disease Control.

The goal is to establish best practices for producing and properly storing kombucha to benefit both the industry and consumers, she said.

“From our research we know that time and temperature have an impact on the production of ethanol during storage. It’s a bit of a concern if products are coming from far way and you don’t know how they were transported, you don’t know how long it’s been since they were manufactured, you don’t know how long they sat around,” Brown said.

“Refrigeration can be variable and we don’t really now about refrigeration during transport but it can definitely have an impact.”

Hannah Crum, president and co-founder of Los Angeles-based Kombucha Brewers International, said a major retailer with stores in Canada pulled all of its kombucha off the shelves in the U.S. in 2010 after a finding of higher-than-legal alcohol levels though that did not involve an official government recall.

“It did help us to understand that there were aspects that we needed to address in terms of accurate testing processes,” she said.

Further concerns about alcohol levels since then have prompted the 400-member organization of brewers and suppliers to seek an accurate testing method from an international group that includes scientists who set standards for analysis of food and beverages, she added.

Crum said AOAC International is in the process of collecting data to precisely test kombucha but a viable method is likely years away.

“Some brands have indicated that they test their competitors’ kombucha and they find that sometimes products are above the half-a-per-cent (limit),” she said of levels allowed in the United States.

Crum said she is aware of the testing being done in British Columbia and is looking forward to the findings.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2019.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kelowna taxpayers could pay $90K for losses caused by cancelled Memorial Cup

$135,000 would be put aside for a potential bid for a future opportunity to host the tournament

Predator mutilated cats in Kelowna: BC SPCA

The BC SPCA confirmed a mutilated cat was killed by a predator

Emergency crews conduct CPR on unresponsive person in Okanagan Lake

West Kelowna emergency crews are on scene at the shores of Jubilee Mobile Home Park

Kelowna woman’s dog attacked by unlicensed pit bull: RDCO

Kelowna resident Yuli Lavigne shared a social media post detailing the attack on her dog

B.C. appeals judge’s decision to leave three clubhouses in Hells Angels hands

The province has filed two notices of appeal related to the B.C. Supreme Court decision

B.C. identifies 20 new COVID-19 cases, travellers specified in count

Pandemic total 3,028 cases, 51 people from outside Canada

Canadian policing organization calls for decriminalization of simple illicit drug possession

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police want policing focus of opioid crisis to be replaced with a health one

Motorcycle rider seriously injured in collision with vehicle on Highway 97 west of Pritchard

Chase RCMP report that motorcycle was attempting to pass when crash occurred

LETTER: Former Summerland mayors speak out on solar project

Five former Summerland mayors sign name to short letter

Filing deadline in RCMP sexual-harassment class-action extended due to COVID-19

Plaintiffs now have until January 2021 to submit claims for up to $222,000

Jamie Bacon pleads guilty to charge in Surrey Six case

The plea brings an end to a complex legal case that has spanned more than a decade

$500 fine for Vernon man caught near Coldstream playground

Richard Slobodian, 58, served one night in jail and ordered to pay for breaching probation

Summerland Museum reopens

Museum to open on July 15 with reduced operating hours

House arrest for Vernon physiotherapist guilty of sexual assault

Stephen Witvoet to serve 18-month conditional sentencing following July 8 hearing

Most Read