Kombucha tea pulled from shelves for alcohol testing

By Janene Gier

The line between being labeled a healthy tea and an alcoholic beverage is as thin as 0.1 percent.

Kombucha tea, known for its health benefits, crossed the legal limit when it was found to be above 0.5 percent of alcohol by volume and was removed from Whole Foods Market shelves around the country Thursday.

“Whole Foods has not released the lab data yet,” said GT Dave, president and CEO of GT’s Kombucha. “They indicated that the product tested slightly above 0.5 percent, which is why they were concerned of potential labeling issues,” Dave said.

Whole Foods is testing the content of all kombucha brands it had in inventory, Dave said.

The Community Mercantile in Lawrence, Kan., still carries kombucha drinks such as Millennium Products’ Synergy and Kombucha and Honest Tea’s Honest Kombucha, which both have labels stating the products could have up to 0.5 percent alcohol, a result of natural fermentation.

Sita Mukerji, operations manager at the Community Mercantile, said she didn’t find out about the recall until the day after Whole Foods recalled its stock, when people from Kansas City started calling to see if the Community Mercantile still had it in stock.

“I haven’t seen a lot of concern about the alcohol content, but people certainly do want to know what they’re putting into their body and how it’s going to affect them,” Mukerji said.

On GT’s Synergy Kombucha Facebook page, fans of the drink have posted pictures of stockpiled Synergy bottles and ask questions such as, “Why is it I can buy a beer, but I cannot buy a kombucha?”

Community Mercantile employee Rose Naughtin, a U. Kansas sophomore from Lawrence, said most of the Merc customers didn’t even know why the recall happened.

A statement issued by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau said a product should be below 0.5 percent alcohol by volume to be marketed as a non-alcoholic beverage.

If the product exceeds that amount, the TTB document said, the product would have to be relabeled to ensure that consumers were advised that the product is an alcoholic beverage.

“There were some initial concerns over slightly elevated alcohol levels with kombucha products produced by a smaller company on the east coast. We suspect there was some mishandling involved,” Dave said.

Mukerji said only specific batches of kombucha may have been affected. She said that all of the kombucha products met testing standards, which did not exceed the amount of alcohol indicated on the label, before being shipped.

After shipping, Mukerji said, additional natural fermentation of the product could be the reason behind the increase in alcohol content.

Emily Lysen, a Local Burger employee and Lawrence resident, said she drinks about two bottles a day. Local Burger sells a select variety of GT’s Kombucha.

“I use it to counteract increased sugar intake and to balance ph,” she said. “I drink it for vinegar content and the carbonation is nice. I don’t want it to end up at a liquor store in order to buy it. I’ll be honest, the small alcohol and carbonation I do use to counteract a hangover.”

This is because she believes kombucha counteracts the high levels of sugar she takes in when she drinks alcohol.

“People will probably home brew it more. It will probably make people buy GT’s less, but a lot of people won’t stop drinking it because it’s so much more potent and because of how well it’s made. And they do a really good job of mixing it with the fruit purees.”

The Community Mercantile is still carrying kombucha products because the recall was not mandated, Mukerji said. She said she thinks things should be resolved quickly.

“We’re just waiting for labeling to make sure it’s in compliance,” Mukerji said.

Read more here: http://www.kansan.com/news/2010/jun/29/kombucha-tea-pulled-shelves-alcohol-testing/
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