Warning over toxic Czech alcohol

Tue, Sep 18, 2012, 01:00

People travelling to the Czech Republic have been warned to avoid consuming locally produced spirits following a spate of deaths linked to methanol-laced alcohol.

To date, 19 people have died and 36 people have been admitted to hospital after drinking illegally-produced liquor that contains high levels of methanol.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) today reminded people the Czech government has banned all products with alcohol content of 20 per cent or greater. It said Czech authorities have confirmed that it is confined to the Czech Republic only.

The tainted alcohol was sold in bottles under fake labels from at least two Czech liquor makers and the bottles weren't properly sealed, according to police. The poisonous drink was offered at discounts in bottles labelled as vodka or tuzemak, a local rum-like alcoholic beverage. Several people went blind or fell into coma after consuming it.

Police have uncovered a chain of producers and distributors who supplied tainted drinks to retail outlets, bars and kiosks.

Police have charged 23 people with various crimes related to making and spreading poisonous substances after raiding 40 premises, deputy interior minister Jaroslav Hruska said today.

While the ban locked about 20 million bottles of spirits in warehouses and hurt liquor makers and hospitality businesses, the government is not considering easing it for now, health minister Leos Heger told reporters in Prague.  "Declining profits, in the context of 19 and potentially more deaths, are a lower priority at this moment," Mr Heger said. Easing the ban "won't be a matter for consideration in the next few days."

As many as 35 people have been hospitalised, with five new cases of poisoning occurring in the past 24 hours, Mr Heger said.

Two people in Slovakia were hospitalised with cases of "lighter poisoning" after drinking plum brandy bought over the internet in the Czech Republic, Mr Heger said.

Slovakia today joined Poland in banning the sale of liquor imported from the Czech Republic. Both countries border the Czech Republic.

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