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How to Avoid Poisoned Alcohol When You’re On Vacation


Guys. Should we be freaking out about these alcohol deaths making the news? So far, I’ve spotted stories of tainted alcohol and tourists deaths in The PhilippinesThe Dominican Republic and now Costa Rica and it’s tough to tell whether there are more tainted alcohol related deaths recently or if people are just reporting them more since the topic is trending. Whatever the reason, hearing about 19 deaths (so far) in Costa Rica from toxic amounts of methanol in several of alcohol is not something you want to hear about a popular tourist destination.

Personally, I feel that if you stick to Bonvoy-ing (I haven’t seen any major chains in the news), or AirBnB-ing (where you’re more likely to byob), or you are also a news hound who’s been watching these stories pop up in your feed, this is less likely to happen to you. But, the world isn’t entirely populated by the well-traveled news junkies that read sites like this one.

I can’t be the only one who knows at least one or two bargain-hunting travel friends who like to head off of the beaten path and aren’t opposed to popping a mini bottle of “Taaka Vodka” in the mini bar of a cheap hotel. And sometimes they’re too busy backpacking around the world to read the news about that some places are infamously stretching their alcohol supply with methanol and making some tourists really sick.

And what about the travel destinations that have yet to hit international news? According to the World Health Organization, alcohol poisoned with additives like methanol to stretch it more cheaply (and dangerously) has hit several countries around the world with a mortality rate of over 30% in some places. By the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking‘s count, 26 countries are battling issues with the “alcohol shadow economy,” in which “illicit alcohol accounts for a sizable proportion of total alcohol” available. And, in this unregulated shadow economy, no one oversees what goes in the bottles.

But How Do You Know When You Shouldn’t Trust The Alcohol?

It’s tough to be sure. My general rule? If you’re in a major chain, drinking an international brand, in a place with strict regulations where tainted alcohol wouldn’t go unnoticed then have a drink at the bar or hit up the mini fridge. If you’re not, and especially if you’re in a country that’s known for an alcohol shadow economy, take care. Well-known brands can be re-filled with fillers like methanol to stretch them more cheaply and unrecognizable brands might be made with something other than alcohol to begin with. At the very least, check Yelp and TripAdvisor for reviews.

While I was getting ready to send my kid sister a lengthy warning about the trip she and her college friends are taking to see Costa Rica on the cheap, I stumbled across Safe Proof, a site that purports to keep a database of hotels, bars and distillers around the world who have been reported for tainted alcohol. You can also buy a methanol testing kit, which will alert you to the presence of methanol in your alcohol if you feel like taking a chance on a bottle you really don’t trust. And if anything tastes “off,” maybe you just shouldn’t drink it at all.


But, I’d love to hear from the intrepid travelers on FlyerTalk. What’s your policy on drinking alcohol while abroad? Have you ever gotten sick after hitting up the mini bar?



Comments are Closed.
KenTarmac July 25, 2019

Don't forget Mexico!

TMOliver July 24, 2019

I suspect that most, perhaps all of the deaths in Costa Rica occurred among a local demographic likely to purchase cheap local aguardiente/cana, untaxed & locally produced, & with the potential for being "cut" with methanol, available at about 1/4 the price of ethanol. The Dominican incidents (& how many of the 8-10 deaths were due to methanol poisoning? not many.) seem a bit scarier, perhaps involving bartenders selling a bit of the "good stuff" & refilling bottles (vodka? "white" rum?) with cheap blends containing methanol from a local supplier/unlicensed distiller. In my youth, back when local distilled "pop-skull" was a readily available product in nearby Limestone & Freestone counties, the taste alone was enough to make drinkers suspect that the ingredients could be questionable.

Centurion July 24, 2019

Three words....DO NOT DRINK