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Food Safety Assessment

BCCDC food issue notes are notes from the field, on food safety issues that BCCDC has been asked to investigate. The notes include BCCDC evidence and recommendations about the issue.

Food issue notes

  • Alcohol Bitters: Evaluate safety of infused (alcoholic) bitters (March 2014)
  • Bakery couche (linen): Use of unwashed linen for proofing of breads in a commercial bakery (February 2014)
  • Biltong, chili bites, droëwors: Evaluate safety of processing of RTE South African meats (March 2020)
  • Bull kelp: Evaluate harvest, processing, packaging of seaweed (bull kelp) (October 2013)
  • Carrageenan: Evaluate safety and toxicity of this additive (October 2014)
  • Cold nitro brew coffee: Evaluate safety issues associated with manufacture and retail of cold nitro brew coffee (November 2017)
  • Chaga Tea: Evaluate safety of chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus or cinder conk) for use in tea (July 2018)
  • Fermented nut cheese: Review process risks of nut butters, fermented cashew nut cheeses and rejuvelac starter (August 2017)
  • Fermented nut cheese ingredient safety : Review handling of ingredients during nut cheese fermentation process (October 2018)
  • Chocolate: Use of commercially sourced chocolate in baked and molded chocolate desserts (September 2013)
  • Raw carob home prepared: Manufacture of raw carob or cocoa chocolate desserts from raw ingredients prepared at home (September 2013)
  • Raw carob commercially purchased: Manufacture of raw carob or cocoa chocolate desserts with commercially purchased raw carob/chocolate powder (March 2014)
  • Sunflower and flax seed oil: Manufacture of flax seed oil using a Piteba oil screw press (October 2013)
  • Freezing for parasite destruction: Evaluate sushi products such as imported flounder and lobster: Is freezing for parasite destruction needed? (February 2014)
  • Histamine risk in tuna: Evaluate histamine risks of sous-vide cooking of tuna, and thawing of tuna at ambient temperature (February 2015)
  • Kombucha tea fermentation: Evaluate safety of a fermented kombucha tea preparation (Updated March 2020)
  • Liquid Nitrogen: Review risk and safety of preparation and serving of cereal dipped in liquid nitrogen to produce a fog-like effect called "dragon's breath" (October 2017)
  • Marine water for commercial use: What are the risks associated with marine water sourced from Burrard Inlet for use in restaurant fish tanks (October 2013)
  • Novel foods: Is the food, ingredient or process novel? A one-page summary review of Health Canada novel food requirement for health authorities and EHOs (July 2018)
  • Olives, smoked and pickled: Evaluate safety of commercial olives further processed by smoking and pickling (April 2014)
  • Pasta shelf-life: Provide guidelines for refrigeration of fresh and partially dried pasta (September 2013)
  • Raw diet foods: Best practices to minimize existing food safety hazards with raw foods (March 2016)
  • Raw refrigerated fish in ROP: Provide guidelines for packaging raw fresh fish in Cryovak (reduced oxygen packaging) (March 2015)
  • Salt koji fermentation: Evaluate a fermented rice recipe, koji (a precursor to miso and soy sauce) (August 2017)
  • Scallops processing: Can mantles be smoked for human consumption and can offal be used for pet food? (July 2013)
  • Sea salt production: Review of sea salt productions risks and evaluate lab results from a metal analysis of sea salt sample (June 2015)
  • Sous-vide duck breast: Processes are being questioned by inspectors as the meat in centre of breast is pink at service (January 2015)
  • Sous-vide eggs: Review food service of preparing eggs sous vide style that were linked to salmonella enteritidis illnesses (January 2015)
  • Sushi safety: Review of sushi rice acidification and sushi best practices (March 2016)
  • Tempeh fermentation: Evaluate food safety of tempeh fermentation recipe (November 2016)
  • Tiffin containers (reusable) : Provide guidelines for the use of reusable take-away containers for restaurant meals (July 2013)
  • Wheatgrass and microgreens: Are wheatgrass and microgreens the same risk as sprouted seeds? (May 2013; revised April 2015)
  • Wild (pine) mushroom foods: Evaluate safety of wild mushrooms in infused oil and salts (September 2013)

A Study of Alcohol Levels in Kombucha Products in British Columbia 

Link to Full Report (March 2020)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 
Kombucha is a mildly sweet and acidic beverage considered to be a healthy alternative to sugary soda drinks. However, kombucha may contain residual alcohol from the multi-step fermentation process that converts sugar to alcohol. People at greatest risk from low levels of alcohol consumption include: young children, people who are pregnant and their developing babies, those with underlying medical conditions or those taking prescription medications that should not be mixed with alcohol, those who wish to avoid all alcohol for personal or religious beliefs, those with occupational concerns such as drivers, and those with alcohol use disorder. 

The purpose of this study was to determine if kombucha available for sale to the public in British Columbia contained levels of alcohol that could cause harm. This is a concern because kombucha that is manufactured and sold as a non-alcoholic beverage is not restricted for purchase as are alcoholic beverages which are only available in liquor stores and other licensed establishments. Kombucha is not labelled nor well known to consumers as potentially containing alcohol. In addition, when kombucha is sold as a raw, living, and unpasteurized beverage there is concern that alcohol may increase over its shelf-life or as a result of temperature abuse. There is currently no information about alcohol levels in kombucha products sold in BC. Other jurisdictions including the US, Australia, and New Zealand have found elevated alcohol in retail products exceeding regulatory values; peer-reviewed publications describe alcohol values in retail products typically ranging from 0.1 to 2% Alcohol By Volume (ABV) with some samples above 3% ABV.  

Kombucha alcohol (ethanol) levels were assessed for compliance with BC regulations that define a beverage as liquor (alcoholic) when it contains greater than 1% ABV. Alcohol (or ethanol) levels were detected by headspace gas chromatography mass spectroscopy (HS-GCMS) at the BCIT Natural Health Products Laboratory. This method is extremely sensitive in detecting low levels of alcohol with a detection limit of 0.0002%. In total, 684 samples representing 53 processors were collected during 142 separate visits to a variety of retail, restaurant, processor, farmers' markets, and other BC locations. A broad range of brands and varieties were selected as representative of kombucha products available to consumers at these purchase points, however this may not have included all brands produced or sold in BC. Temperatures of kombucha products at these locations were taken and products were examined for labelling information. 

Overall, 31.5% of kombucha samples exceeded BC regulations (i.e., contained levels of alcohol above the regulatory limit of 1% ABV). The highest level was found in BC restaurant kombucha (3.62% ABV). Over 70% of BC processors were identified as having a potential or definite problem with controlling alcohol in their products.[1] In comparison, 33% of kombucha imported into BC from other countries and provinces had potential or definite problems. Precautionary labels about alcohol were found for 54% of brands but often labels were in very small print; three brands displayed statements advising to avoid alcohol during pregnancy with only one including children in the warning. Illegible or unreadable best before dates were found in 5% of products sampled with place of business for the manufacturer poorly described. While 92% of products did advise to keep kombucha refrigerated no product labels explained that it was important to do this to avoid increases in alcohol content; one product advised that contents were under pressure and that the bottle may break if unrefrigerated. 

Consumers have a right to know which products have alcohol in them, how much alcohol is present, and what practices may later increase alcohol content. BCCDC recommends that kombucha processors label actual alcohol content and ensure that alcohol content does not increase during a product's shelf-life or during mishandling. Kombucha processors should monitor alcohol in their products and address this hazard as a health concern. BCCDC further recommends that federal authorities require precautionary labelling on products that can contain alcohol to allow consumers to make an informed choice. 

[1] A potential problem was defined as a processor who sometimes (in less than 20% of samples tested) had alcohol over 1% ABV in their kombucha and a definite problem was defined as a processor who often (greater than 20% of samples tested) had alcohol over 1% in their kombucha.


Funding for this study was provided by the BCCDC Foundation for Public Health with matched funding from the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch. Testing was conducted by the NSERC’s Canada Research Chair Program through BCIT. In-kind contributions were received from the University of British Columbia and regional Health Authority partners. 

Listeria in food processing facilities study

Occurrence and distribution of Listeria species in facilities producing ready-to-eat foods under provincial inspection authority in British Columbia


SOURCE: Food Safety Assessment ( )
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