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14 Dead, Hundreds Hospitalized After Drinking Toxic Coconut Wine At Filipino Christmas Celebrations

By Stephanie Ogbogu

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Spending your Christmas in the Philippines? It may be best to stay away from the lambanóg.

Lambanóg, a popular beverage during holidays and celebrations, originates from Luzon island in the northern Philippines and is a traditional Filipino distilled palm liquor made from coconut palm sap. It is derived from tubâ that has been aged for at least 48 hours and has an alcohol content of 40% to 45% by volume. It’s highly potent, but if not handled correctly, hundreds of Filipino residents found it could be deadly.

As many gathered in Laguna and Quezon, provinces of Luzon, for Christmas celebrations, they were served a generic brand of the coconut wine. They began to experience dizziness, stomach aches, and vomiting and were rushed to the hospital for care.

Nearly 500 people were taken to local hospitals, 14 have died, due to poisoning. According to The Philippine Food and Drug Administration, the coconut wine tested positive for methanol, which can cause permanent blindness and be potentially fatal if as little as 10 mL (0.34 US fl oz) is consumed.

“Lambanog poisoning is caused by residual methanol, which in high levels becomes highly toxic for humans,” said Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III in a news release. “Methanol is a naturally occurring substance present during the distilling process, that should be separated and removed thereafter.”

Despite having a permit to operate, Fred Rey, the owner of the local distillery that produces Rey Lambanog, surrendered himself to authorities and faces multiple charges of homicide and physical injury. Rey denies liability in the occurrence, saying that he has been selling lambanog for decades without incident.

Last December, in a case involving a different brand of coconut wine, at least 20 died in the Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon regions after drinking lambanog. Authorities have called for a temporary ban on the holiday beverage.

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