Food Labeling Can Be Confusing

Have you ever wondered how long kombucha lasts? Well, the bad news is, not forever. Depending on how it’s bottled and stored, kombucha lasts anywhere from six to eight months, at least that’s what the date on the packaging may say. But that’s not the whole story.

While federal law does not mandate the use of expiration dates on foods, many states set forth their own guidelines on certain foods. Most major food manufacturers are members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute. They agree to follow the guidelines set forth by these organizations, one of which is printing expiration dates on the food packaging.

Until the recent past, food manufacturers printed an “expiration” or “sell by” date on their labels. While the intent was pure, the results caused confusion. Even with the labeling, consumers weren’t sure how long after the “sell by” date was acceptable. Did an expiration date mean the food or beverage must be tossed out on that date or woe to the consumer?

Not exactly. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute reevaluated their approach. They recognized that foods really don’t expire. Sure, they lose flavor, texture and consistency after a certain period of time, but they don’t suddenly become rancid and cause harm in most cases. The “sell by” date suggested the same thing, yet was even less clear. All of these strict dates resulted in consumers throwing out perfectly fine foods and beverages based on vague dates printed on their labels - items that had a much longer shelf-life than the labels intended. 

Food Waste Is A Big Problem

Sadly, Americans waste 150,000 tons of food every day, approximately one pound of food per person. The Guardian reported that the waste is not just felt in our pocketbooks. “This waste has an environmental toll, with the volume of discarded food equivalent to the yearly use of 30m acres of land, 780m pounds of pesticide and 4.2tn gallons of irrigated water. Rotting foods also clog up landfills and releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.”

Related: We’re Proud to Be B Corp Certified

Now, these organizations are recommending that their members change their labeling altogether. They are asking companies to choose “Best if used by” or “Use by” labeling instead. This much softer approach gives the consumer some wiggle room and may reduce the amount of food thrown out unnecessarily. The product may have passed its prime and lost some of its nutrients, but it likely will cause no harm.

How Long Does Kombucha Last, Really?

So, what about kombucha? Brew Dr. Kombucha has a six-month “Best by” date on its canned kombucha and eight months on its glass-bottle kombucha. This means that we guarantee the flavors, fizz and naturally occurring live and active cultures to be fresh and wonderful until that date. Right? Well, not exactly.

The “Best by” and “Use by” dates printed on food and beverage packaging are intended for the unopened product. Once the consumer has opened the packaging, air is introduced. Air aids in decomposition, spoilage and nutrient loss. A manufacturer, including us, cannot guarantee the quality and integrity of its products once the item has been opened. But that’s not all that’s at play.

Many foods and beverages require a stable, specific temperature range to remain viable. Dairy items, meats, juices, and yes, kombucha, all need constant refrigeration. Kombucha, in particular, requires refrigeration in order to maintain the community of live and active cultures in the brew. If the cultures of bacteria are overheated, they die. Kombucha sitting in a hot car may have damaged cultures and is not going to taste as good as the kombucha stored in a refrigerator or iced cooler.

Related: Kombucha 101

So, how long does kombucha last? It depends on when it was opened and how it was stored. Once opened, you should enjoy canned kombucha immediately because the cans are not resealable. If you are enjoying bottled kombucha with a reusable cap and have any remaining, be sure to cap the bottle and place it back into the fridge. In this way, you not only keep your kombucha cold, but you also prevent air from circulating inside of the bottle. The opened kombucha will remain fizzy, tart and full of live and active cultures. 

Brew Dr. employee showing kombucha bottles

So drink up, kombucha lovers! Just be sure you’re taking note of when you opened the bottle and keep any leftovers in the fridge.

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