Alcoholic Tea: Whole Foods Pulls Kombucha Drinks

Whole Foods Market pulled Kombucha teas from its store shelvesWhole Foods Market (WFMI) has yanked kombucha teas from its store shelves after discovering the popular fermented drinks contained elevated levels of alcohol, a company spokeswoman said Friday.

The grocery store chain known for its wide array of wholesome and organic foods sells kombucha teas, which it notes in a blog posting is "revered for its ability to promote good health and has helped millions of people with its excellent detoxifying, metabolic balancing and immune-enhancing qualities."

But several days ago, Whole Foods pulled the beverages because of elevated alcohol levels that weren't reflected on the labels. The company is awaiting their suppliers to update their labels. Under government regulations, products containing alcohol levels of 0.5% or more need to carry warning labels.

GT's Synery kombucha teas were among those pulled by Whole FoodsPopular Product at Whole Foods

For Whole Foods, the kombucha teas are one of the more popular beverages sold in the stores, notes Libba Letton, a Whole Foods spokeswoman.

Indeed. Whole Foods, through its Local Producer Loan Program, issued a low-interest loan to local producer Townshend's Tea to specifically support the expansion of its line of Brew Dr. Kombucha.

In a statement about the voluntary move to pull kombucha off its shelves, Whole Foods said:
"After conversations with several kombucha suppliers, we share the concern around potential labeling issues related to slightly elevated alcohol levels in some products. In order to ensure regulatory compliance, our key kombucha suppliers along with Whole Foods Market have removed all kombucha products in bottles and on tap from our stores at this time. We are working with our supplier partners to review these potential labeling issues for a swift resolution."

Non-Pasteurized Is the Point

Kombucha, like over-fermented vegetables and fruit, can find itself throwing off alcohol as it stews away. While the Food and Drug Administration has never issued a safety warning regarding kombucha teas, it has made statements in the press that kombucha should be pasteurized, because of concerns about bacteria used to create the drinks and the potential for contamination, said Siobhan DeLancey, an FDA spokeswoman.

She added that pasteurization would also go a long ways toward nixing the alcohol in kombucha teas. However, for many, the whole point of drinking kombucha and other non-pasteurized foods is to get away from processed foods and drinks.
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