A recent search of off-licences across Brighton and Hove brought a whole new meaning to the expression “blind drunk” as five establishments were found to be selling counterfeit vodka which can, in extreme cases, cause blindness.
Trading standards officers are increasing patrols after bottles of the illegal vodka were found in three off-licences in the Brighton area, and a further two off-licences following a second round of investigation.
The imported vodka contains levels of methanol which could be harmful if consumed in excess. A spokesman for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) said that methanol is normally found in vodka, but at a much lower level than that found in the counterfeit bottles which have been tested.
Methanol is more commonly found in household chemicals and antifreeze. The effects of methanol poisoning include nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, drowsiness, blurred vision leading to blindness, and breathing difficulties. Symptoms of methanol poisoning can take several hours to take effect and antidotes are available to prevent permanent damage if received in time.
The vodka is packaged in 70cl bottles with a Spar Imperial Vodka label, despite the fact that no bottles have been found to be stocked by Spar stores. The counterfeit products can be identified by the code QI 1445 and a smudged inkjet code that looks like 102234 04/08/02. The genuine Imperial Vodka from Spar outlets is not affected.
Intelligence from the FSA recently led to the raiding of four premises in London and the consequent seizure of hundreds of bottles of the fake vodka. Several other cases have also been reported across the country.
Trading standards refused to name the off-licences where the vodka was found on sale because the investigation is still in process, but said there had been no reports so far of ill-health associated with it. Council officials are planning to visit more off-licences to check that the product is not on sale, and will be continuing efforts to find out where the bottles originate from.
Students are advised to check vodka bottles carefully and report any possible affected bottles, or any establishments found to be selling counterfeit products, to Brighton and Hove city council’s trading standards department on 01273 292494.