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

Coastal GasLink pipeline investor committed to closing deal despite protests

Developer TC Energy Corp. — formerly TransCanada Corp. — is to remain the operator of the $6.6-billion pipeline

Potholes in Vanderhoof recurring due to weather, says district office

Potholes in Vanderhoof are being fixed, but ‘northern winter weather’ is the… Continue reading

Northern Health recommends self-quarantine for people returning from Hubei

The healthcare provider said it isn’t neccessary for healthy children to wear face masks

Wet’suwet’en return to camps near Houston, Coastal GasLink workers move through: First Nation

Opponents of a pipeline who support the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have reoccupied camps at centre of arrests

Still no contract for Canada Post workers

Vanderhoof postal workers will wear black every Friday to raise awareness about their situation

VIDEO: 7 things you need to know about the 2020 B.C. budget

Surplus of $227 million with big spending on infrastructure and capital projects

Trees Cannabis director fined $1.5M for selling marijuana

Fine follows provincial crackdown on popular dispensary

World Cup skier from Okanagan dies suddenly at 19

Kuroda, who made his World Cup debut earlier this year, passed away suddenly Monday night.

New highway proposed between Alberta and B.C.

The route would connect Red Deer to Kamloops

What’s in a name? The story of Revelstoke’s Mt. Begbie

It’s likely the iconic peak had several Indigenous peoples’ names before settlers arrived

Budget 2020: B.C. Liberals blast ‘Netflix tax,’ lack of economic plan

ICBC rates still go up, except in election year, Shirley Bond says

Teen snowmobiler from Kelowna found after air force’s overnight search

The teen had been missing since just after 6 p.m. on Monday

Two law enforcement trucks ‘deliberately’ set on fire in northern B.C., RCMP say

Police say they have video evidence of a person in the area of the truck fires

Nanaimo man wins lotto, plans to buy $16,000 fridge

Curtis Wright a winner in Lotto 6/49 draw

Most Read