More than 20 people are suspected to have been poisoned and four have died in Brazil after drinking contaminated batches of beer. Tests have found diethylene glycol in 32 lots of 10 Backer beers.

Officials from the Minas Gerais State Department of Health recommended no beer produced by Backer should be consumed. The agency advised people who have any beers made by Backer to not dispose of them in sinks or toilets or place them in the garbage. Instead they should be identified with an inscription such as: “Do not ingest. Product unsuitable for consumption”, stored separately from other foods and taken to a designated reception point.

A total of 22 suspected cases of poisoning by diethylene glycol, a toxic chemical used in antifreeze, have been reported including 19 men and three women. They live in Belo Horizonte, Capelinha, Nova Lima, Pompéu, São João Del Rei, São Lourenço, Ubá and Viçosa, according to the Minas Gerais State Department of Health.

Four have been confirmed and the remaining 18 are under investigation because they presented symptoms suggesting intoxication by diethylene glycol and reported having the product.

For one of the four deaths, presence of diethylene glycol in the blood was confirmed. The man was admitted to a hospital in Juiz de Fora and died on Jan. 7, 2020. The other three deaths are a man who died on January 15 in Belo Horizonte; another man who died the day after in Belo Horizonte and a woman, who died on Dec. 28, 2019 in Pompéu but cause of death has not been determined.

The first person was admitted to hospital on Dec. 30, 2019, suffering from acute renal failure and neurological issues. However, health authorities were also informed of two cases with symptoms similar to intoxication by diethylene glycol with exposure before October 2019 and an investigation is ongoing.

Beers recalled and banned
The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (Mapa) revealed tests have found diethylene glycol in 32 lots of 10 Backer beers. Affected drinks are Belorizontina, Capixaba, Capitão Senra, Pele Vermelha, Fargo 46, Backer Pilsen, Brown, Backer D2, Corleone and Backer Trigo. Monoethylene glycol has also been found in some lots of Belorizontina brand beers. Only monoethylene glycol, which is less toxic, is used in operations, according to the company.

Brewery officials said it was collaborating with the recall, official enquiries and internally investigating the issue.

The Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency (Anvisa) provisionally banned all Backer beers across the country with an expiration date from August 2020 onwards. The ban will last until the company proves absence of diethylene glycol and monoethylene glycol in its beers and the Três Lobos production site in Belo Horizonte remains closed.

Belorizontina brand beer with lots L1 1348, L2 1348 and L2 1354 and Capixaba beer lot L2 1348 are prohibited and must be collected by Backer as contamination has been proven. Preventive action has been taken for 90 days on all lots of a number of other beers with a date after August 2020 so they cannot be delivered to the consumer and must be removed from shelves.

Tests by MAPA confirmed contamination in the water used by Backer to make its beers.

Several lines of enquiry are being followed including leakage, misuse of monoethylene glycol and possible sabotage by an employee.

On average gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, appear 72 hours after drinking contaminated products before renal failure or neurological signs including facial paralysis, visual blurring, sensory changes and seizure.

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