Seventeen people are suspected to have been poisoned and one person has died in Brazil after drinking beer.

Sixteen males and one female aged 23 to 76 years old are thought to have suffered diethylene glycol poisoning. Four cases have been confirmed and the remaining 13 are under investigation as they have showed similar symptoms, according to the Minas Gerais State Department of Health.

The first person was admitted to a hospital on Dec. 30, 2019, suffering from acute renal failure and neurological issues such as facial paralysis, blurred vision and sensory alteration. For suspected cases, the earliest onset of symptoms is Dec. 19, 2019. The average number of days between onset of symptoms and hospitalization was two and a half.

Mapa calls for mass recall
The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (Mapa) has told Cervejaria Backer to recall all products manufactured from October 2019 to the current date. The company has challenged this as it believes only Belorizontina branded beers could be affected.

Analyzes on samples of Belorizontina and Capixaba products made by the brewery have confirmed presence of the contaminants monoethylene glycol and diethylene glycol. The latter substance has also been found in the blood of some of those sick. Both substances are used as antifreeze in the brewing industry.

Mapa has stopped Cervejaria Backer’s Três Lobos unit in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, for precautionary reasons. A total of 139,000 liters of bottled beer and 8,480 liters of draft beer has been seized and tanks and other production equipment were also sealed.

Source of contamination under investigation
Only monoethylene glycol is used in the production process, according to the company.

However, tests on a cooling tank used in the production of Belorizontina beer batch L2 1354 came back positive for diethylene glycol. The substance had been detected in samples of two beers from batches L1 1348 and L2 1348 provided by family members of patients. Capixaba beer from batch L2 1348 was positive for monoethylene glycol and diethylene glycol.

Bottles from the families of victims and the company were found to be intact and showed no signs of tampering.

Officials believe the beer was contaminated sometime between the second half of November and start of December 2019. Several lines of enquiry are being followed including accidental contamination and possible adulteration by a former employee.

A statement from the company said it was focused on patients and their families.

Brewery officials said the firm was collaborating with official enquiries and internally investigating to find out how the lots identified by police were contaminated. Results of independent tests are pending.

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