Laboratory - Scientific Services Division

Beverage Alcohol Product Safety

Harmful Ingredients, Adulterants, and Unauthorized Additives

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for determining which ingredients are prohibited from use in food and/or beverage products. Under a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the FDA, the TTB Beverage Alcohol Laboratory (BAL) analyzes alcohol beverage products for limited and prohibited compounds. The laboratory enforces these restrictions for alcohol beverages as per FDA guidance. For more information, please see the regulations at 21 CFR part 189, Substances Prohibited from Use in Human Food.

For a list of methods currently used by the BAL, please see our Methods and Procedures.

Allergenic Fining Agents

Prior to bottling, many wines typically possess a suspension of particles usually comprised of polyphenols such as tannins. Since tannins are known to impart a bitter taste and are usually undesirable in the finished product, winemakers add substances to clarify or fine the wine before marketing.

Although fining agents such as bentonite, agars, synthetic polymers, and silicon dioxide are sometimes used by winemakers, proteins are frequently the agents of choice. Egg white and potassium caseinate (derived from milk) are examples of commonly used fining agents due to their affinity for polyphenols at wine pH.

Typically, egg white and milk fining agents are removed from the wine before consumption; however, trace amounts of soluble egg or milk protein may have a deleterious effect for individuals with those specific food allergies.

To investigate the concerns of alcohol beverages for the allergic consumer, the BAL has initiated a program to evaluate enzyme-linked immunosorbant assays (ELISA) of specific food allergens in malt beverages, wines, and distilled spirits. The BAL is focused on the ELISA detection of both egg white and milk-derived (casein) fining agents in wine. More information on food allergens may be found on FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Web site.

Consumer Complaints

In 1988, TTB, formerly ATF, assumed the lead role in all matters pertaining to alcohol beverages. Among those responsibilities was a new role for TTB as the primary investigator of consumer complaints related to alcohol beverages.

A consumer complaint case most commonly originates from a consumer's direct contact with the Consumer Complaint Coordinator of the Advertising, Labeling and Formulation Division when a problem with an alcohol beverage product is identified. A retailer or a local, State, or Federal agency (including the FDA) may also initiate a complaint. A consumer may also contact a local TTB Trade Investigations Division office to report any complaint regarding alcohol beverages.

It is important that when a consumer submits a complaint about a product, he or she retain the open bottle as well as any unopened bottles as reference. A TTB investigator will collect the sample and the reference and submit them to the BAL.

Upon receipt of such samples, the Laboratory conducts modern scientific analyses and issues reports based on the findings to the Consumer Complaint Coordinator and the TTB investigator. No report is issued to any complainant. The Consumer Complaint Coordinator or the TTB investigator notifies the complainant of the findings.

 

Page last reviewed/updated: 08/21/2014

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