Kombucha Brewers International

Code of Practice 

Version 2.0

Product Standards & Food Safety Requirements

Product Scope: This standard applies to all beverages bearing the name of kombucha, from base or not, flavored or not, intended for direct consumption in conformity with the definitions of this Code of Practice. Kombucha Brewers are required to comply with the standards listed in order to pursue certification.

The purpose of this code of practice is to create a food safety and quality standard for kombucha producers that creates transparency for consumers to make informed choices. The certification and seal program provide a high level of trust for food safety and an understanding that the product follows clear standards for kombucha manufacture.

Table of Contents

Kombucha Product Standard

  1. Kombucha Product Standard
    1. Kombucha tea is a slightly sweet/acidic fermented beverage made with an aqueous extract of tea leaves (fermented) utilizing a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY or pellicle). Kombucha typically has a pH range of 2.5 to 3.5. The fermentation produces a beverage with some natural carbonation, organic acids, nutrients in natural form and trace amounts of alcohol. Variations in the base solution and optional ingredients, as well as further possible fermentation processes provide a variety of related similar products with different flavor profiles. Sanctioned variations are listed in this standard.

Processing and Ingredient Definitions

2. Processing and Ingredient Definitions

2.1 Tea: An unsweetened beverage obtained from soaking the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant in water. Same as Tea Liquor. Variations of Camellia sinensis include but are not limited to black, green, white, oolong, yellow, pu-erh and so forth.

2.2 Tea liquor: The liquid from steeped tea leaves, same as brewed tea. 

2.3 Sweetened tea liquor: Steeped tea with an added nutritive carbohydrate.

2.4 SCOBY: An acronym that stands for “Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast”. Another name for a SCOBY is cellulosic pellicle. The SCOBY contains a mixture of  Acetobacter (AAB) species and any of a number of yeast species including but not limited to Brettanomyces bruxellensis; Zygosaccharomyces; Candida spp. and so forth that will vary based on region.

2.5 Starter liquid: Already fermented kombucha used to inoculate a new batch of kombucha. Starter liquid contains a mixture of  Acetobacter (AAB) species and any of a number of yeast species including but not limited to Brettanomyces bruxellensis; Zygosaccharomyces; Candida spp. and so forth that will vary based on region. The amount of starter liquid to be used, especially if no SCOBY is employed, is no less than 10% of the total volume to ensure product safety.

2.6 Kombucha Base: An intermediary product not sold directly to consumers. Kombucha fermentation techniques as specified in the standard must be employed to achieve the base which typically has been fermented so that the sugars end up at 0%, and acetic acid concentration is over 1.2%. This product cannot be consumed without dilution and is considered a manufacturing sub-ingredient for the finished product. It requires dilution of over 20% of water, juice, tea or other liquid to produce a safe and palatable kombucha-style product and is therefore not subject to the labeling requirement. Kombucha base must be indicated on the front of the label as well as in the ingredients panel. See Labeling Requirements.

2.6.1 Kombucha Base that is produced through traditional, long term fermentation is demonstrably nutritionally superior based on HPLC testing versus Kombucha base produced using techniques intended to reduce fermentation time by speeding up the process (example: high heat, oxygenation, and so forth).

2.7 Nutritive carbohydrate sweetener: Any sugar source that facilitates the fermentation process including but not limited to sucrose, fructose, glucose, galactose, dextrose, lactose, maltose, as well as other nutritive carbohydrate sweeteners that support fermentation such as honey, agave, molasses, brown sugar, maple syrup and certain fruit juices. Must be a type that will ferment to provide the characteristics of traditional kombucha. 

Finished Product Definitions

3. Finished Product Definitions

3.1. Traditional Kombucha Tea: A traditional beverage that is obtained from the fermentation of various types of tea leaves, sugar and SCOBY which results in a tangy, slightly sweet, effervescent liquid with low levels of alcohol and without additional heat treatment after fermentation. Flavoring may be added.

3.1.1 Mandatory Ingredients:

3.1.1.1. Camellia sinensis leaves

3.1.1.2. Potable Water

3.1.1.3. Nutritive carbohydrate sweeteners 

3.1.1.4. Starter Liquid and/or Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY)

3.1.2. Optional Ingredients (not to exceed 20% of the finished product by volume formulation solely or in combination)

3.1.2.1. Flavorings ingredients including various juices

3.1.2.2 Characterizing food ingredients 

3.1.2.3. Carbon dioxide

3.2. Kombucha: A beverage obtained from fermentation of any number of acceptable plant materials, SCOBY/starter liquid, water and a fermentable sugar. Flavoring may be added.

3.2.1. Mandatory Ingredients:

3.2.1.1. Camellia sinensis, coffee, yerba mate, herbs or other defined substrate per Finished Product Definitions

3.2.1.2. Potable Water

3.2.1.3. Nutritive carbohydrate sweeteners 

3.2.1.4. Starter Liquid and/or Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY)

3.2.2 Optional Ingredients (not to exceed 20% of the finished product by volume formulation solely or in combination) must be listed in the ingredients list on the label – See Labeling Requirements

3.2.2.1. Flavorings ingredients including various juices

3.2.2.2. Aroma and flavor-producing microbial cultures

3.2.2.3. Vitamins and minerals

3.2.2.4. Characterizing food ingredients (such as chia seeds)

3.2.2.5. Probiotic bacteria

3.2.2.6. Carbon dioxide

3.2.2.7. Citric and other acids

3.2.2.8. Color additives

3.2.2.9. Stabilizers – used only in flavored, colored or vitamin and mineral fortified kombucha

3.3. Jun Kombucha: A traditional kombucha, except that only raw honey may be used as a sweetener

3.4. Honey Kombucha: A traditional kombucha, except that only pasteurized honey may be used as the sweetener.

3.5. Herbal Kombucha: A traditional kombucha, except that a minimum of 20% of the plant material is composed of herbs.

3.6. Coffee Kombucha: A traditional kombucha, except that a minimum of 20% of the plant material is composed of coffee.

3.7. Yerba Mate Kombucha and Yaupon Kombucha: A traditional Kombucha, except that a minimum of 20% of the plant material is composed of yerba mate or yaupon.

3.8. Wild Kombucha: Marketing term that designates the use of SCOBY and/or starter liquid that has not been generated in a laboratory. The culture may be manipulated through hybridization or natural cultivation – i.e. desired characteristics cultivated through selective breeding.

3.9. Hard Kombucha: A kombucha to which additional yeasts are added to yield a higher alcohol content than traditional kombucha.

3.9.1. Kombucha Beer: A fermented kombucha to which additional non-native yeast is added at a later phase resulting in a beer, as defined in 27 CFR § 25.15 with an alcohol content of 3.4% ABV or higher.

3.9.2. Kombucha Shandy and Kombucha Radler: Kombucha combined with beer, as defined in 27 CFR § 25.15.

3.9.3. Kombucha Wine: A fermented kombucha to which materials for fermenting wine as defined in 27 CFR §§ 24.175-218 are added with an alcohol content up to 24% ABV.

3.10. Processed Kombucha: Processed kombucha is any type of kombucha to which a process has been applied to the product outside the traditional manufacturing process. Examples include pasteurization, dealcoholization, filtration, filter sterilization or any other process that changes the nature of traditional kombucha. Industry term.

Kombucha Brewing Process Steps

4. Kombucha Brewing Process Steps

4.1. Tea leaves (and/or coffee, herbs, yerba mate, etc.) are steeped in water and then removed to produce tea liquor.

4.2. The tea liquor is mixed with a nutritive sugar source.

4.3. Once the sweetened tea liquor is below 100°F (38°C), the SCOBY/and or starter liquid is added.  

4.3.1. Fermentation temperature can vary between a low of 72°F (22°C) to a high of 95°F (32°C).  

4.3.2. The amount of SCOBY and/or starter liquid differ between kombucha manufacturers and in different regions of the world though a minimum of 10% is required for food safety reasons. 

4.3.3. pH is recommended to be 4.5 or lower after adding starter liquid and/or SCOBY.

4.4. Fermentation continues at the desired temperature in an aerobic environment for an established time. 

4.4.1. The fermenting substrate will start to smell fermented with evidence of gas bubbles appearing. 

4.4.2. A new SCOBY will start forming across the surface of the liquid which allows for an anaerobic fermentation process to occur.

4.4.3. The taste of the kombucha changes during fermentation from a pleasantly fruity, tangy flavor after a few days to a vinegary taste after a longer fermentation time.  

4.4.4. Some may choose to use closed tank systems and bubble in air/oxygen.

4.4.5. Kombucha base is subject to rapid fermentation in closed tank systems using oxygenation techniques common in the vinegar making industry.

4.5. Fermentation time will vary based on several factors including size and shape of vessel, temperature & humidity, type of substrate, amount of starter liquid/SCOBY added and so forth.

4.6. At the end of primary fermentation, the newly formed cellulosic pellicle is removed and may be used for future fermentation provided no signs of mold are present.

4.7. A flavor infusion step may occur at this point in the process and if there are fermentable sugars, then would be considered secondary fermentation.

4.8. A tertiary process may occur if the product is permitted to bottle age; that is remain bottled for a period of time to induce flavor changes and/or changes in natural effervescence.

4.9. At any stage, the beverage may be filtered to remove excess yeast. However, if the filter is less than .45 microns, then it needs to be indicated on the label as “sterile filtered”. See Labeling Requirements for more details.

4.10. The finished product is then bottled, canned or kegged, capped, labeled and stored at refrigeration temperatures at or below 40°F (4.4ºC) throughout its distribution chain, to inhibit additional fermentation that could lead to increased alcohol content and off flavors.

4.10.1. If the product is pasteurized or otherwise subjected to processing steps to create a shelf stable product, then refrigeration is not needed. 

4.10.2. Kombucha that is kegged must utilize equipment and practices as outlined in the Kombucha Draft Standards Manual.

5. Additional Processing Steps

5.1. Some Kombucha tea undergoes further processing that could include:

5.1.1. Secondary fermentation naturally produces carbon dioxide and ethanol which adds carbonation and varying levels of “fizz” to the Kombucha beverage.  

5.1.1.1. Kombucha undergoing natural secondary fermentation may be indicated on the label as “naturally effervescent.”

5.1.1.2. Kombucha undergoing natural secondary fermentation needs to confirm ethanol levels are in compliance for their region. See Alcohol Chart below.

5.1.2. Pasteurization at any stage to kill organisms and limit further fermentation in the bottle.  

5.1.2.1. Pasteurized Kombucha must be indicated on the label. See Labeling Requirements for more details.

5.1.3. Dealcoholized: Any technique, mechanical, chemical or otherwise employed after fermentation to remove all naturally occurring ethanol from the product.

5.1.3.1. Kombucha that has had some or all naturally occurring ethanol removed must have this indicated on the label. See Labeling Requirements for more details.

5.1.4. Dilution: Kombucha may be diluted with water or juice after fermentation and prior to bottle. 

5.1.4.1. Dilution % must be indicated on the label only if it contains more than 20% of added ingredients and is not a product made using kombucha base. 

5.1.4.2. Juice % must be listed above the nutrition panel in accordance with 21 CFR 101.30.

5.2. Kombucha can be produced using a kombucha base provided the base was produced in the same manner as listed in steps 4.1-4.6 above. 

5.2.1. Kombucha produced from base must have this indicated in the ingredients list as the product “Kombucha base (INGREDIENTS BY WEIGHT IN THE BASE)” and also indicate on the front of the label that the product is “made from kombucha base”

Kombucha Brewing Process Flow Chart

Exact steps will vary by producer

Commercial Kombucha Brewing Process Flow Diagram

General Hygiene Requirements

7. General Hygiene Requirements

7.1. Primary Production: Primary production should be managed in a way that ensures that food is safe and suitable for its intended use. Where necessary, this will include: 

7.1.1. Avoiding the use of areas where the environment poses a threat to the safety of food. 

7.1.2. Controlling contaminants, pests and diseases of animals and plants in such a way as not to pose a threat to food safety.

7.1.3. Adopting practices and measures to ensure food is produced under appropriately hygienic conditions.

7.2. Establishment Design and Facilities: Depending on the nature of the operations, and the risks associated with them, premises, equipment and facilities should be located, designed and constructed to ensure that: 

7.2.1. Contamination is minimized.

7.2.2. Design and layout permit appropriate maintenance, cleaning and disinfections and minimize airborne contamination.

7.2.3. Surfaces and materials, in particular those in contact with food, are non-toxic in intended use and, where necessary, suitably durable, and easy to maintain and clean. 

7.2.4. Where appropriate, suitable facilities are available for temperature, humidity and other controls.

7.2.5. Effective protection against pest access and harborage.

7.3. Control of Operation: To produce food that is safe and suitable for human consumption. 

7.3.1. Formulate design requirements with respect to raw materials, composition, processing, distribution and consumer use to be met in the manufacture and handling of specific food items

7.3.2. Design, implement, monitor and review effective control systems.

7.4. Establishment: Maintenance, Sanitation and Personal Hygiene

7.4.1. Ensure adequate and appropriate maintenance and cleaning. 

7.4.2. Control pests. 

7.4.3. Manage waste. 

7.4.4. Monitor effectiveness of maintenance and sanitation procedures. 

7.4.5. Ensure that those who come directly or indirectly into contact with food are not likely to contaminate food.  

7.4.5.1. Maintain an appropriate degree of personal cleanliness.

7.4.5.2. Behave and operate in an appropriate manner.

7.5. Transportation: Measures should be taken where necessary.

7.5.1. Protect food from potential sources of contamination. 

7.5.2. Protect food from damage likely to render the food unsuitable for consumption

7.5.3. Provide an environment that effectively controls the growth of pathogenic or spoilage microorganisms and the production of toxins in food.

7.6. Product Information and Consumer Awareness: Products should bear appropriate information (i.e. lot coding). 

7.6.1. Ensure adequate and accessible information is available to the next person in the food chain to enable them to handle, store, process, prepare and display the product safely and correctly

7.6.2. Easily identify the lot or batch and recall if necessary. 

Kombucha Labeling Requirements

8. Labeling Requirements: The name of the beverage that meets all of the above requirements in this industry code of practice is either “Traditional Kombucha Tea” or “Kombucha” or any of the Finished Product Definitions assuming the product conforms to the specifications for that definition.

8.1. The following terms shall accompany the name wherever it appears on the principal display panel or other panels of the label in letters not less than one-half of the height of the letters used for the name of the food.

8.1.1. The term “Pasteurized” if pasteurized. Must meet 21 CFR part 117 requirements.

8.1.2. The phrase “From Kombucha Base” if produced using a kombucha base. 

8.1.2.1. In addition to being visible on the front panel, it also needs to be listed on the ingredients label in the order from greatest to least thusly: Water, Kombucha base (INGREDIENTS BY WEIGHT IN THE BASE), flavorings, stevia, etc.

8.2. The following terms shall appear on the label in letters consistent with ingredient panel label requirements.

8.2.1. If naturally occurring ethanol was removed prior to bottling, it must be noted on the label. 

8.2.2. If carbon dioxide or nitrogen is infused just prior to or during bottling, it must be noted on the label. This must be listed in the ingredient statement.

8.2.3. The word “X% kombucha” must be stated if the product has less than 80% kombucha and is not made from kombucha base.

8.2.4. The phrase “Added cultures” if additional bacteria or yeast are added prior to bottling. These must be listed in the ingredient statement.

8.2.5. The phrase “Added probiotics” if probiotics are added. These must be listed in the ingredient statement.

8.2.6. The phrase “Added acids” if additional organic acids are added. These must be listed in the ingredient statement.

8.2.7. The phrase “Flavored with XX” and/or “Colored with XX” with the “XX” identified as specific flavoring or coloring agent. These must be listed in the ingredient statement.

8.2.8. The term “filtered” must be included on any products that are passed through any size filter.

8.2.8.1. The phrase “sterile filtered” if passed through a filter of <0.45 microns.

8.2.9. The statement “Keep Refrigerated Before and After Opening” displayed prominently on the label.

8.2.10. The statement “Kombucha naturally contains trace amounts of ethanol due to the fermentation process.” OPTIONALLY may add language to the effect of “ Do not consume if you are avoiding alcohol or consult with your caregiver.”

8.3. The following marketing terms may be used if desired.

8.3.1. The phrase “Naturally Effervescent” if no artificial carbonation has been injected prior to or during bottling.

8.3.2. The phrase “Wild Culture” if using a starter liquid and/or SCOBY that has been cultivated from wild strains and has not been designed nor bioengineered.

8.4. When kombucha meeting this Code of Practice is mixed with another type of beverage or food, the result is a compound food and the percentage of Kombucha in the finished beverage must be identified, i.e.“Contains _ percent (or %) Kombucha” or a similar phrase, with the blank filled in with the percentage expressed as a whole number not greater than the actual percentage of kombucha.  The percentage of kombucha declaration shall be placed prominently on the primary display panel, in easily legible boldface print or type in distinct contrast to other printed or graphic matter.

Kombucha Specifications

9. Kombucha Specifications

9.1. Kombucha shall be practically free from contaminants and meet all regulatory requirements for human food.

Contaminant Maximum limit Method of test
Arsenic (As), mg/kg 0.05 US ISO 6634
Lead (Pb), mg/kg 0.05 US ISO 6633
Mercury (Hg), mg/kg 0.001 US ISO 6637
Cadmium (Cd), mg/kg 0.003 US ISO 6561-2

9.2. Kombucha shall not contain vinegar eels nor fruit flies.

Analytical Profile of Kombucha

10. Analytical Profile of Kombucha

10.1 Chemical Standards

Substance Source Concentration Range Comments
Alcohol (ETOH) Finished product In compliance with local regulations
See chart below for additional details by country & region.
0.00-3.2%ABV Ethanol in kombucha naturally ranges from 0-3% ABV
Titratable Acidity

   -Acetic Acid

Finished product Max 2.0% 0.27-2.03%
pH Finished product Max 3.8 2.2-3.8 Must be less than 4.6 for food safety

10.2. Ethanol Compliance

10.2.1. At a minimum, send to a 3rd party lab on a quarterly basis to confirm food safety and compliance. 

10.2.2. Retain on file lab results which demonstrate an alcohol level in compliance for your country and region.

10.2.3. A minimum of twice per year, the company should test its kombucha pulled from retention samples held in house, and must maintain records that demonstrate that the alcohol level is below the legal limit for your country.

10.2.4. Non Alcoholic Kombucha: Must comply with local laws. See Chart below for reference.

10.2.4.1. Ethanol testing is recommended for every batch for food safety and compliance using a KBI Approved Ethanol Testing Method.

10.2.5. Hard Kombucha: 

10.2.5.1. Determine whether the kombucha requires permits as a brewery or winery depending on your local regulations.

10.2.5.2. Comply with all regulations regarding the best practices for a product of its classification.

10.2.6. Ethanol Compliance Chart by Country (send any updates for your country/state or province to admin@kombuchabrewers.org)

Country Ethanol Level for All Ages Ethanol Level for labeling Ethanol level for taxation Comments
United States <0.5% <0.5% >0.5% KOMBUCHA Act, when it passes, would change threshold for taxation
Australia – New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland <0.5% >0.5%
Australia – Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania <1.15% >1.15%
Canada – Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, <1.1% <1.1% >1.1%
Canada – Nova Scotia, Ontario, PEI, Quebec, Saskatchewan <0.5% <0.5% >0.5%
Europe – Belgium <0.5%
Europe – Denmark, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Spain <1.2% <1.2% >1.2%
Europe – Finland <1.2% <1.2% >2.8%
Europe – Slovakia <.75%
Mexico <2.0%
New Zealand <1.2%
South America – Colombia <2.5%

10.3. Microbiological Standards

Microflora Source Range
Bacteria: Acetic Acid Bacteria (AAB)

  • Acetobacter spp 
  • Gluconacetobacter spp
  • Komagataeibacter spp
SCOBY AAB dominant (more than 50%), may also contain some Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) in less significant quantities
Yeast:

  • Brettanomyces bruxellensis 
  • Saccharomyces spp 
  • Starmerella spp
  • Zygosaccharomyces spp
  • May vary by region
SCOBY Yeast vary by region and contribute to flavor and ethanol content

 

Last updated 7.7.20