The drink, known locally as Lambanog, is a traditional Filipino distilled coconut liquor and has an alcohol content between 40 to 45% abv. The levels of methanol in the samples were found to range between 11.4% to 18.2%, according to the country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
According to the Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III, methanol is a naturally occurring by-product during the distilling process of alcoholic beverages and is present in low amounts, however it should be removed after fermentation.
Methanol is toxic, and high amounts of ingestion can lead to serious adverse effects such as blindness, permanent neurologic dysfunction, or death.
The levels found in the lambanog samples were found to exceed the safety levels of 0.5%. “Ingestion of 30mL is considered to be potentially fatal. Absorption through the skin or inhalation of the vapour may also lead to toxic effects. This is due to methanol being converted into formaldehyde and formic acid in the liver and kidneys,” in an official article by the FDA.
“Lambanog poisoning is caused by residual methanol, which in high levels becomes highly toxic for humans,” Duque III said.
This is not the first time people have died from drinking lambanog in the Philippines. In 2018, 21 individuals died from drinking methanol-spiked lambanog.
Not so merry drink
Methanol is added into lambanog to lower costs for producers. The FDA has repeatedly issued warnings to lambanog brewers over its high methanol content and stressed the importance of proper fermentation and production of coconut liquor to prevent poisoning.
The samples were collected from the region of Laguna, where the incident first took place. Laguna is one of the country’s top producers of coconut, the base ingredient of the local liquor.
The FDA had also issued a public health advisory (No. 2019-534) to remind the public to exercise caution in purchasing and consuming alcoholic products such as lambanog that do not have proper labels and are not registered with the FDA.
Likewise, retail outlets and other dealers of alcoholic beverages were warned against the sale of unregistered products, which is a violation of the FDA Act of 2009 and the Food Safety Act of 2013.
According to a list released by the agency, there are only 14 lambanog drinks currently approved by the FDA.