>In this post: Bootleg or tainted booze not confined to Mexico; tips for drinking abroad; State Dept warning
It’s the scary sort of travel story that sizzles in the summer heat. A young woman from Wisconsin passed out in a five-star hotel pool near Cancun, Mexico (and later, tragically, died) after having a few shots of allegedly tainted tequila. Her brother, who also had shots by the pool, lost consciousness but did not die.
Later, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel posted an investigative story about the incident. Soon after, other travelers who’d visited nearby resorts reported similar experiences of having a few drinks, passing out, then waking up in their hotel rooms, or worse, in the hospital. They suspect, but cannot prove, that they were served tainted or drugged alcohol. Iberostar, which runs the resorts where these incidents occurred, told the newspaper that it only purchases, “sealed bottles that satisfy all standards required by the designated regulatory authorities.” The issue remains unresolved.
Based on that brouhaha, the State Department chimed in this week with an update to its alerts and warnings page about travel to Mexico: “There have been allegations that consumption of tainted or substandard alcohol has resulted in illness or blacking out. If you choose to drink alcohol, it is important to do so in moderation and to stop and seek medical attention if you begin to feel ill.”
Mexican authorities have since said that the country will work on improving inspections and controls for tainted alcohol at big resorts.
While it’s tragic that travelers have been sickened or died at these resorts in Mexico, it’s important to know that tainted food or alcohol are global problems, and not just happening in Mexico. For example, in the Czech Republic 30 people died from drinking tainted vodka in 2012. The problem is so common in the UK that London’s Daily Mirror recently warned New Year’s partiers to be aware of drinks that “smell like nail varnish.” Bootleg booze can even turn up in duty free stores. I’m convinced I was once served tainted or drugged booze in Brazil and luckily had a travel companion along to get me back to our hotel to sleep it off.
And get this: The chief executive of Brown-Forman, one of the world’s largest distillers told the Financial Times, “A third of the world’s alcohol is estimated to come from what we call illicit production. It can be very dangerous to the point of being poisonous.”
Here’s a dose of my own advice that I’ll be following when I travel to Mexico City next month. You should consider it, too!
- Travelers everywhere should always be alert to the possibility of being served tainted booze. Give your drinks the “sniff test.”
- Don’t drink alone in unfamiliar surroundings
- When traveling in another country, don’t overdo it and let your guard down. Avoid shots.
- Stick to drinking from bottles or cans you can open yourself.
- Be aware of your surroundings when drinking in public places.
- At the first signs of nausea, dizziness or drowsiness, stop drinking and let someone know.
- Don’t leave your food or drink unattended.
- Have a good travel insurance policy in effect and its emergency number in your wallet.
- Get out in the world, have fun and be safe this summer.
What do you think about the incident in Cancun? What precautions would you suggest to your fellow travelers?