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People sit in the shade with intravenous fluids in Kratie province late last month after they consumed rice wine at a funeral that was believed to contain methanol.
People sit in the shade with intravenous fluids in Kratie province late last month after they consumed rice wine at a funeral that was believed to contain methanol. Photo supplied

Minister encourages food, drink safety following deaths

Minister of Health Mam Bunheng yesterday asked the public to stop drinking rice wine and eating sick animals after 19 people died and 170 fell ill in Kratie province over the past month.

Improperly fermented booze can contain methyl alcohol or methanol, which is harmful to humans, according to the Health Ministry. Likewise, animals that died in an uncertain fashion are likely to be contaminated by disease or poison, like the tainted dog meat that killed six people in Kratie last week.

“If people keep drinking rice wine and eating [tainted] dead animal meat, they will get sick or die,” Bunheng said.

The ministry declined to comment on whether the recent deaths represent a spike in such cases.

Methanol occurs in fermented drinks, usually at very low levels, but unregulated production of alcoholic drinks can cause it to be higher.

Ministry spokesman Ly Sovan said that samples taken of some of the wine imbibed by Kratie villagers over the past month contained methanol levels ranging from 10.6 to 12 per cent.

The human liver is bad at processing methanol, which turns into toxic formaldehyde and formic acid in the body. Symptoms of poisoning include drowsiness, headaches, vomiting and blindness.

“Involved institutions have to check the brewing process, importation and distribution to ensure the quality and safety,” said Sovan.

In the past, the WHO in Cambodia has called for greater regulation of the alcohol industry.

Likewise, the ministry said that animals that died of disease, poison or uncertain circumstances should be avoided.

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