So recent news has finally given me a reason to do something that makes sense for this blog, at least on the surface. We are a few posts in on something called The Whiskey Monologues and we are finally talking about Whiskey instead of just using it as a fuel for the haphazard writing here. Specifically I am talking about the recent news that Fireball brand whiskey has been banned in Europe!
Well, not really banned.
And not in all of Europe.
Really just one particular shipment was found to be out of spec for two European countries due to the amount of propylene glycol content. Unfortunately I thought this was big news, as click baiting headlines made me believe some cheap whiskey was being banned because it was less safe than the moonshine a relative of mine brings to Christmas every year. At least he doesn’t intentionally put antifreeze in his booze.
When we all hear that antifreeze is being added to a beverage, we understandably freak out. Personally it was somewhat, distressing, to me to think that the whiskey supply was tainted. Antifreeze is that sweet smelling green stuff that my parents told me to never, ever, EVER drink or I would go blind or die. It was one of those things we meticulously kept away from the pets and less intelligent family members. It was a necessary killer that was never meant to pass human lips.
Of course the big problem here is that when we hear something is antifreeze, we automatically assume it is THE antifreeze, the big bad green killer we keep around because our cars need it, somewhat paradoxically for the cooling system. What we think of as Antifreeze is really a chemical called ethylene glycol, which is related to propylene glycol but certainly not the same thing. Ethylene glycol is dangerous, and if that had been found in some quantity in a beverage I would be really worried.
Propylene glycol though, is not the same as ethylene glycol. First off, just because something freezes at a lower temperature than water does not make it toxic. There are many things with a lower freezing temperature than water, such as salt water (ok that’s water with something added, but still) or even vinegar, which is something most people regularly ingest as part of salad dressings, maybe pickled products, or on French fries at the fair if you have any good sense of taste. The real litmus test for something being an antifreeze is simply it freezing at a lower temperature.
How toxic is propylene glycol? I did some looking, and it turns out the LD50 for propolyene glycol(the level that killed 50 percent of the test subjects, which in this case were rabbits because I highly doubt any reputable institution would do this with humans) was 18.5 grams per Kg of body weight. So for our hypothetical 160 pound (72.6Kg) person, this would be about 1,343g or 50.6 ounces (good lord can we please just adopt the metric system already) for a lethal dose 50 percent of the time. That is a lot of fluid to take in. For some perspective, the LD50 of Ethylene Glycol is 4.7 g per Kg, so for our 160 pound person that is 355g or 12.5 ounces, or about one soda can worth. Ethyl alcohol, the not so secret ingredient in Fireball Whiskey which we buy it for, has an LD50 of 7.06g per Kg of body weight. I’m not doing the math on the last one, but I think it gets the point across. Propylene glycol is significantly less toxic than the “antifreeze” we think of and still less toxic than the alcohol we are expecting, and willingly paying for, in the beverage.
So the real difference here is not that America allows a very toxic substance that is banned elsewhere, even though that wouldn’t necessarily mean anything, since some products do get banned based on fear of harm rather than evidence of harm. Really the 2 countries involved also allow propylene glycol in food, they just allow it at a lower level than in the US. I couldn’t find any evidence that one was better or worse than the other, and I am not trying to say that we should be chugging this stuff like a Frat boy on… well any night. All I am saying is that before we decide something is going to outright murder us we should double check and see what that thing is. Much like Dasani water or almost anything the Food Babe has talked about, a catchy headline that hints at imminent death by something enjoyable should be a big clue to take a look and see if someone is maybe trying to intentionally mislead the public in the pursuit of getting page views.
I don’t normally drink Fireball, but when I do, I totally mix it with Rumchata. It tastes just like Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.