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Thursday 28 October 2021
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FSAI finds undeclared alcohol levels of up to 3.9% in some fermented drinks like kombucha

13% of beverages examined were found to have an alcohol content of more than 1.2%.

File image of bottles of kombucha.
File image of bottles of kombucha.
Image: Shutterstock/Scott Wilson Photography

THE FSAI HAS issued guidance for producers of fermented drinks such as kombucha after a survey found some beverages had an undeclared alcohol content of up to 3.9%. 

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) examined 32 plant-based fermented drinks sold in Ireland to determine their compliance with laws around food labels and health claims. 

The authority said this type of beverage has increased in popularity in Ireland and other countries over the past few years. Kombucha, a fermented tea drink, is commonly sold in Irish shops. 

13% (four) of the drinks examined by the FSAI were found to have undeclared alcohol levels of between 1.5% and 3.9%. 

Under EU rules, food products with an alcohol content of more than 1.2% must declare this concentration on a label. 

91% of the drinks examined were also found to make unauthorised health and/or nutrition claims on the label, issuing statements such as ‘full of goodness’ or ‘contains live cultures’. 

Three-quarters of the drinks were missing mandatory label information such as the address of the producer, a list of ingredients and a best-before or use-by date. 

As a result of the survey findings, the FSAI has developed a guidance note for the producers of ready-to-eat unpasteurised fermented plant-based food and drinks. 

The guidance contains advice around the production of drinks like kombucha along with foods like sauerkraut and kimchi. 

The chief executive of the FSAI, Dr Pamela Byrne, said the methods used to make fermented drinks an be “difficult to manage” and can lead to an “accumulation of alcohol”. 

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She said the inadvertent consumption of alcohol could “pose adverse health issues” for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

“There are obvious consequences too for those employed in professions where there are restricted levels of alcohol permitted such as certain categories of licensed vehicle drivers, machine operators and airline pilots,” Dr Byrne said in a statement. 

She said the new guidance is aimed to help producers achieve “consistent production methods, safe storage, safe handling and safe transportation” of the fermented drinks.

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