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

Provincial COVID-19 data can now be used for B.C. to prepare for a second wave

In the past week, B.C. has seen a slight spike in daily test-positive case counts

Four air ambulance flights out of Terrace delayed or cancelled

Pandemic precautions caused nighttime closure of service station providing weather data to pilots

Skeena Resources, Tahltan prez excited by purchase of Eskay Creek

Skeena gets full control of mine, Barrick gets 12 per cent of Skeena and a one per cent royalty

Seabridge Gold starts drilling along proposed tunnel route north of Stewart

Twin tunnels will connect the KSM mine to its mill and tailings site

Mother grizzly bear with two cubs spotted on Gruchy’s Beach trail near Terrace

Conservation officers also warning public to stay away from Grizzlies on lower Kitimat River

Recent surge in COVID-19 cases not unexpected amid Phase Three of reopening: B.C.’s top doc

Keep circles small, wear masks and be aware of symptoms, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. NDP changing WorkSafeBC regulations to respond to COVID-19

Employers say reclassifying coronavirus could be ‘ruinous’

Baby raccoon rescued from 10-foot deep drainage pipe on Vancouver Island

‘Its cries were loud, pitiful and heartbreaking,’ Saanich animal control officer says

Statistical flaws led to B.C. wolf cull which didn’t save endangered caribou as estimated

Study finds statistical flaws in an influential 2019 report supporting a wolf cull

Windows broken, racist graffiti left on Okanagan home

Family says nothing like this has happened since they moved to Summerland in 1980s

B.C. man who went by ‘Doctor Ray Gaglardi’ charged with sex assault of teenage boys

The man, 75, is accused of assaulting teenage boys he met through Coquitlam-area churches

B.C.’s potential deficit $12.5 billion as spending spikes, taxes drop

Finance Minister Carole James gives COVID-19 outlook

Canadians torn on scaling back COVID-19 benefits to save money: poll

Of those surveyed, 78 per cent said they were worried about the size of the deficit

‘Trauma equals addiction’: Why some seek solace in illicit drugs

Part 2: Many pushed into addiction by ‘toxic stress,’ says White Rock psychologist

Most Read