Food Law News - UK - 2003

FSA Recall Notice (R631-41), 7 March 2003

RECALL - Agency warns against drinking contaminated spirits

The Food Standards Agency has issued a new health warning about drinking counterfeit Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch Whisky. More bottles contaminated with unacceptable levels of methanol have been found this week.

The new contaminated fake bottles of Johnnie Walker were discovered in an operation by Customs and Excise and police at a suspected counterfeit spirits bottling plant in Berkshire this week.

These fakes have been subtly changed from ones previously found, presumably to make them appear more like the genuine article. Previously they had a fake neck label with the word 'distillers' wrongly spelt as 'distilleries'. The fake neck label has now been removed.

David Statham, the Agency's Director of Enforcement and Food Standards, said: 'Tests carried out on the counterfeit whisky show that it has been contaminated with methanol.

'At the levels detected, consumers would be at risk of harmful effects including severe stomach pain and blindness. The fake whisky should be avoided and anyone who thinks they may have drunk some within the last 24 hours should contact their doctor. We strongly advise people to check that they have the genuine article, rather than this latest version of fake Johnnie Walker.'

Methanol should not be present at the levels found in the fake Johnnie Walker whisky and could cause serious harm to anyone drinking it. The effects of methanol poisoning include severe abdominal pain, drowsiness, dizziness and blurred vision leading to blindness.

At higher levels it can also lead to breathing difficulties and coma.

The Agency is also advising that counterfeit bottles of Highland Pride Whisky may be on sale in the UK after rolls of fake labels for this drink were also found on the premises this week along with the fake Johnnie Walker. As a precaution, anyone who thinks that they may have one of these fake bottles is advised not to drink the liquor as it has not been possible to safety test it.

If you have a bottle you should take it to your local authority for investigation. Other products found at the same time did not test positive for unacceptable levels of methanol. Further tests are being considered, but at present it appears that they are simply poor quality watered down fakes.

The Agency will issue any further advice as appropriate.

A Food Hazard Warning has now been issued to all Local Authorities across the UK asking them to ensure that contaminated products are not on sale in their area. If found, the bottles will be removed from sale and destroyed.

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