The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) has presented the second of three kombucha webinars to inform the growing industry about current issues and provide compliance strategies.
The second webinar, Alcohol Analysis, focused on methods for testing the alcohol content of kombucha products. To avoid liability and ensure quality, all kombucha producers should take appropriate steps, including testing of alcohol content, to determine if the alcohol content of their product ever reaches or exceeds 0.5 percent alcohol by volume at any time during production, bottling or after bottling and before it is consumed. When kombucha contains 0.5 percent alcohol or more by volume at any time, the product comes under the jurisdiction of regulations of the U.S. Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
The webinar featured a presentations from James Neal-Kababick, the founder and director of Flora Research Laboratories, LLC, a Grants Pass, Oregon-based contract testing and research laboratory, and Samuel J. LaBonia, president of Cornerstone Laboratories, LLC, headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee.
Recorded versions of Alcohol Analysis or the first webinar, TTB Basics, are available online for $75 for members and $125 for non-members. AHPA's third kombucha webinar, which will focus on tax, labeling and legislation, will be presented at 1 p.m. EST on Nov. 4 for the same cost. A discount is offered for all three webinars.
Neal-Kababick, who has been working with kombucha for more than two decades, provided an overview of commonly used testing methods and how to validate other testing methods.
"There are several methods that can be used for quality control, but you must be certain that they are fit for purpose to meet the TTB requirements," Neal-Kababick said. "When TTB pulls a sample for testing, they will likely utilize the distillation and densitometer method and using this method is the best way to ensure compatible data, if done by a qualified expert."
According to Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, producers may use any method that has been formally validated (e.g., that underwent a multi-laboratory performance evaluation) or that is otherwise scientifically valid for purposes of determining the alcohol content of beverages, including beverages that contain less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume. A scientifically valid method is, among other things, accurate, precise and specific for its intended purpose, and it has results that are consistently reliable, accurate and reproducible.
Cornerstone Laboratories has been testing kombucha for more than three years and has worked with several brewers and companies in today's market. LaBonia highlighted the unique complexities that alcohol testing of kombucha presents.
"This is a very unique beverage because it is often still alive when it gets to the shelf," LaBonia said. "This provides health benefits and lends to its growing popularity, but can make it tricky to analyze. It isn't as simple as testing beer, wine or spirits."
Neal-Kababick and LaBonia stressed that testing is a necessary step for alcohol analysis and quality control that can present a significant burden for individual kombucha companies. However, they noted that the burden of developing and validating testing methods can be mitigated through industry-wide collaboration.