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*

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

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Interior Health reports 2 more deaths, 83 new COVID-19 cases

Health authority also identifies new virus cluster in Fernie

South Columbia Search and Rescue called in the Nelson Search and Rescue and Kootenay Valley Helicopters to provide a long line rescue. Photo: BCSAR submitted.
Long-line rescue needed for injured hiker near Trail

Members of South Columbia and Nelson SAR and Kootenay Valley Helicopters did a long-line evacuation

A sign indicating a COVID-19 testing site is displayed inside a parking garage in West Nyack, N.Y., Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. The site was only open to students and staff of Rockland County schools in an effort to test enough people to keep the schools open for in-person learning. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
4 more deaths, 54 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

This brings the total to 66 deaths in the region

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)
Castlegar Sculpturewalk 2020 – 10 Year Anniversary Sand Sculpture. (Submitted/CBT)
CBT arts and culture grant program now accepting applications

Apply through the Kootenay Columbia Cultural Alliance

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Othman “Adam” Hamdan, pictured in front of Christina Lake’s Welcome Centre, was acquitted of terrorism related charges in 2017. He has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorism charges awaits deportation trial while living in Kootenays

Othman Ayed Hamdan said he wants to lead a normal life while he works on his upcoming book

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart share a laugh while speaking to the media before sitting down for a meeting at City Hall, in Vancouver, on Friday August 30, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

Kennedy Stewart says he’s encouraged by the federal health minister’s commitment to work with the city

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Kamloops hospital grows to 66 cases

A majority of cases remain among staff at Royal Inland Hospital

Most Read