Rice Wine Makers Shut Down After Eight Dead, Over 130 Hospitalized

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Authorities inspect a rice-wine workshop in Kampong Chhnang province on November 29, 2020. (Kampong Chhnang provincial police)
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All rice wine manufacturers and distributors in Kampong Chhnang province have been temporarily shut down after eight people died and more than 130 were hospitalized from drinking methanol-tainted wine over the weekend, according to authorities.

Five of 16 wine samples initially collected from various manufacturers in the province contained 10 to 17 percent methanol. Further testing results should be known by Wednesday, they said.

The poisoning happened at a funeral ceremony in Teuk Phos district’s Khlong Popoak commune on Saturday, where many villagers had gathered. Well over 100 of the attendees were soon sent to several hospitals around the province.

Provincial hospital director Tum Sambath said on Tuesday afternoon that 131 villagers, including six women, had been hospitalized, with 127 of them having recovered and four still in treatment.

Deputy provincial governor Am Sophea said late in the afternoon that there had been an eighth death that day related to the wine poisonings.

Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine said of the prior seven deaths, two died at the provincial hospital, two died on the way to Phnom Penh, two died at home and one died after arriving at the capital’s Calmette Hospital.

Heng Kimhong, a program officer at the People’s Center for Development and Peace, said rice wine manufacturing needed to be controlled.

A separate rice-wine poisoning case in June left seven people dead, and similar cases of methanol-laced wine are seen every year.

“Why aren’t there inspection measures ahead of time?” Kimhong asked. “It’s better than checking after the fact.”

Methanol is used by small rice-wine manufacturers to speed-up production and increase profits, but is toxic and potentially lethal.

Provincial governor Chhour Chandoeun said authorities had targeted five manufacturers and found multiple samples of methanol-laced wine. They were looking into taking legal action for causing death through carelessness.

“We’ve closed all producers and distributors,” Chandoeun said on Tuesday. “If they want to do it, first of all, there must be clear legal permission. Secondly, they need to be properly trained, because causing people to die, making people sick, it’s a very serious matter and it affects government policy.”

Phan Oun, director-general of the Commerce Ministry’s department of consumer protection, competition and fraud prevention, said experts had now collected 55 samples from eight wineries and results should be known by Wednesday.

The department said in a statement that initial tests by provincial police found 10 to 17 percent methanol in five of 16 samples collected.

Oun said the department would make further efforts at curbing the practice in provinces that have seen poisoning cases, including Banteay Meanchey, Kampong Chhnang, Kratie, Prey Veng and Pursat.

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