Austin, TX—After recently pulling krill oil off its shelves because of a sustainability issue, Whole Foods Market has halted the sale of Kombucha fermented tea after finding elevated levels of alcohol in the product, according to

The Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau states that products containing more than 0.5% of alcohol must carry warning labels, which are currently missing from most raw Kombucha labels. G.T. Dave, president of Millennium Products, said his company is investigating the issue and explained that the product does not contain alcohol at the time it is shipped. “Because of the product’s organic and active qualities [and] due to the fermentation, trace amounts of alcohol are a naturally occurring characteristic of raw Kombucha. At no point is alcohol ever added,” Dave said. Although Dave said that the store’s approach to the issue could have been handled differently, he understands and supports its decision. 

Other Kombuchas are pasteurized and don’t have any alcohol content in the drink. Steve Lee, the founder of Kombucha Wonder Drink, said that since raw Kombucha products have been removed, the sales of his pasteurized, non-alcoholic Kombucha tea products have “skyrocketed.” Lee said that “the potential for elevated alcohol levels in raw Kombucha has always been an issue in the industry, and we’re glad to see it finally being addressed.”

In addition, Whole Foods Market is also setting stricter guidelines for the packaging of the personal care products it sells. On June 18, the company announced that “all personal care products and cosmetics making an ‘organic’ claim sold in its U.S. stores must be third-party certified by June 1, 2011.” Currently, only organic food must be certified to the US. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP), while personal care and cosmetics products are not. Whole Foods Market is setting a new guideline that these products must be certified under the same standards as organic food.

According to thecrse press release, “Products making an ‘Organic’ product claim must be certified to the USDA’s National Organic Program standard for organic (>95%) products. Products making a ‘Made with Organic ___’ claim must be certified to the USDA’s National Organic Program standard for Made with Organic (>70%) products. Products making a ‘Contains Organic ___’ claim must be certified to the NSF/ANSI 305 Organic Personal Care Standard. Products listing an organic ingredient in the ‘Ingredients’ listing must be certified to the USDA NOP standard.”

Rebecca R. Hamilton, director of product development at Badger Company, a maker of organic personal care products, commented that “Becoming certified organic can be expensive and challenging, but when companies are faced with the choice of removing their organic claims or certifying their products, I believe that a number of companies will put in the effort to become truly organic.”

According to the Whole Foods press release, the chain is requiring third-party certification because of the “growing consumer interest and confusion about what organic means for personal care products and ensuring the integrity of the organics industry.”

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, August 2010 (epub July 21, 2010)