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Cell-Made Hootch Sickens 12 Utah Inmates with Botulism

A dozen inmates at the Utah State Prison are being treated for potentially deadly botulism after drinking alcohol made in a jail cell, state health officials say.

Eight of the 12 prisoners, including three who are in critical condition, are being treated at a hospital near the state prison at Draper, UT, about 20 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.  The four others remain in the prison.

The eight hospitalized inmates have received the antitoxin for botulism, which the Salt Lake Valley Health Department obtained from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. The antitoxin has not yet been given to the four inmates being held at the prison infirmary because their symptoms have so far been mild.

This was the most recent incidence of botulism reported in the state since 2003.

The Utah State Prison inmates were infected by the botulinum toxin by drinking alcohol made in a plastic bag hidden in a cell. The prison moonshine is often referred to as “cell-brewed pruno.”

While botulism can be deadly, with medical treatment most survive.  Botulism can bring on paralysis and respiratory failure that requires weeks on a ventilator in order to recover.

The cell-brewed hootch is made using fruit, water and sugar in plastic bags often hidden in toilet tanks. This creates an “anaerobic environment” without  oxygen, also a  recipe for breeding botulism.

According to “Modern Drunkard Magazine” the recipe for “classic pruno” requires fruit, fruit cocktail, sugar cubes, ketchup and water.

One sip contaminated with botulism is enough to make someone sick.  Blurred vision, dry mouth, and trouble swallowing are the initial symptoms.  Paralysis will typically start at the shoulders and work its way down.

Utah health officials say the botulism outbreak at the prison peaked on Oct. 1.  All who were affected drank the poison brew; botulism is not transmitted person-to-person.

Making or drinking moonshine is illegal inside Utah State Prison, and that could make other ill inmates reluctant to come forward, but health officials are trying to seek them out.

Utah State Prison houses more than 4,000 inmates, including  some infamous ones over the years including Ted Bundy, Gary Gilmore and Barton Kay Kirkham. Bundy, the serial killer only did time in Utah. He died in a Starke, FL electric chair.

Gilmore’s death by firing squad in 1977 was the first execution in the U.S. after the Supreme Court lifted a moratorium.  Kirkham was the last Utah inmate to be hanged, in 1958.

© Food Safety News
  • John

    Tsk tsk tsk… Always use a starter culture, duh! I just cracked open my first ever bottle of homebrew beer and it was great, but I would never attempt to brew unless I was starting with a known yeast. Whenever you do a “wild” fermentation, you never know which bacteria you are going to end up with.

  • Interesting, you would think-given it is fruit based-that the pH would be low enough to inhibit C. bot. Moral: always have a pH meter, even in the slammer.