Homemade Wine, a Potato, and an Inmate
Here's why some inmates should pass the next time their buddy hands over some homemade wine.
Eight inmates from a Utah jail went into the emergency room complaining of weakness in the muscles in their head. They all had trouble speaking, one patient was having difficulty breathing. The culprit? A homemade batch of jailhouse wine called “pruno,” that was tainted by the bacterium, Clostridium botulinum.
With a splash of botulism
According to a case study published this month in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, the dangerous bacteria came from the skin of a baked potato that was added to the bootleg booze. The unidentified inmate who made the wine mixed juice, fresh and canned fruit in a bag along with water. The brew was then hidden in his mattress to ferment for a week.
The inmate said he had made the concoction “20 times before” with the same recipe, but had thrown in a potato that time as an "experiment." Little did he know that the infected potato skin would rapidly reproduce during the fermentation process, causing his eight inmates to become very ill.
What is botulism?
Writer Carl Lamanna called it in an article for Science “the most poisonous poison” there is. Botulism is a rare but serious disease that affects the muscles, starting from the top of the head and slowly moving down until ultimately it paralyzes the muscles that control breathing, as Medical Daily writes. (In case you're wondering, yes, this is the stuff in Botox.) Botulism is fatal in about 8 percent of cases, and “it can take weeks to months [to recover],” Dr. Megan Fix, a lead author of the study and assistant professor of surgery at the Division of Emergency Medicine at the University of Utah Hospital told ABC News. “You have to just wait it out. The nerve endings will have to wake up … Essentially your nerve endings have to make a new receptor.”
How common is botulism?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports an average of 145 cases of botulism every year. Only 15 percent is food-borne, while 65 percent is infant botulism related to honey. Twenty percent come from wounds, often related to hypodermic drug use. Though botulism poisoning from commercially canned foods has been virtually eliminated in the United States from better food safety methods, most cases of poisoning involves home-canned foods when the microbe festers within.
Great Lakes birds dying of botulism
National Geographic writes that nutrient pollution, invasive species, and food chain interactions are the factors at play. Experts believe fish are eating rotting mats of algae that generate the botulism toxin. The infested fish are then getting eaten by diving waterbirds. Type E botulism in waterbirds is becoming an “annual event in one or more of the Great Lakes,” according to a press release by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. At least 200-300 common loons have washed ashore along Jefferson and northern Oswego County shorelines.
Are you passing on homemade wine?