State Dep’t Issues New Warning After Reports of Tainted Alcohol at Mexican Resorts

By Mark Browne | July 27, 2017 | 9:43 PM EDT

The Iberostar Paraíso del Mar resort in Cancun, Mexico. (Photo: Iberostar Hotels & Resorts)

Mexico City (CNSNews.com) – The State Department has issued a new warning to tourists alerting them to reports of adulterated beverages in Mexico, where authorities have seized 1.4 million gallons of illegal alcohol since 2010.

An updated warning on the department’s website calls attention to recent reports that tourists have fallen ill or lost consciousness after consuming tainted liquor.

“Following these reports and in consultation with our posts in Mexico, we updated our country-specific information for Mexico,” a spokesman told CNSNews.com.

The new warning alerts travelers about “allegations of tainted or substandard” alcohol being served in Mexico and warns citizens to “seek medical attention if you begin to feel ill.”

Early this year Abigail Conner, 20, was found “unresponsive” in a pool at the five-star Iberostar Paraíso del Mar in Cancun, according to a statement issued by the hotel group. Her 22-year-old brother Austin was also found in the pool with her.

The siblings from Wisconsin were both hospitalized in Mexico but while Austin recovered, Abigail died in a hospital in the U.S. four days later.

According to a report in the Milwaukee Journal, Austin said the “last thing he recalled” was consuming four or five tequila shots with his sister before he regained consciousness in an ambulance.

The paper said “numerous” visitors to Mexico have reported having “experienced sickness, blackouts and injuries after drinking at Iberostar and other resorts around Cancun and Playa del Carmen in recent months.”

In its statement, the hotel said “we only purchase sealed bottles that satisfy all standards required by the designated regulatory authorities.”

Mexican authorities, however, have seized 1.4 million gallons of illegally produced or sold alcohol since 2010, according to figures released by a spokesperson for the federal sanitary protection commission.

The commission reports that confiscations of illegal alcohol by tax and health officials jumped by 3,500 percent in 2015, compared to 2010.

A 2015 raid on three businesses in Chiapas, including a distributor, found alcohol adulterated with ethanol.

Falsified bottle labels and federal tax stamps bearing holograms and QR codes were seized at raids in the states of Veracruz and Hidalgo.

Federal authorities seized 470,000 gallons of illegal liquor in 2016, including a raid on a tequila factory in the state of Jalisco.

A study by Mexico’s national university in 2014 (mostly in Spanish) claimed that the “most common form of adulterating an alcoholic beverage is the use of methyl alcohol instead of commercial alcohol.”

Effects after consumption include “neurological disorders, headache, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, disturbed breathing, coma and sadly death,” it said.

An industry study completed last year found 36 percent of total sales of distilled alcohol in Mexico do not comply with federal law, according to Héctor Ancira, director of the wine and liquor industry commission.

He said only a small part of the illegal sales, five or six percent, are adulterated beverages.

The study didn’t include wines, champagne or beer.

Ancira said patrons ordering liquor should check bottle labels for the federal tax stamp, to ensure it hasn’t been altered or the bottle reused.

Reusing bottles is illegal, he said, but noted that “it happens.”

Tequila is the liquor most often tampered with, said Raul Benitez Manaut, a security expert at Mexico’s national university UNAM.

Sellers of tainted alcohol, he said, “know perfectly well what they are selling” and whether it’s just “low quality” or “adulterated.”

Given the level of corruption in Mexico, Benitez said the problem is likely to get worse.

It was  up to local health officials to monitor establishments where liquor is sold and follow up on reports of tainted beverages, he said.

Health officials in the state of Quintana Roo, where Cancun is located, have inspected 128 hotels and 262 night clubs and bars and found no adulteration, according to a statement issued by state officials Wednesday.

So far this year, health officials said they have received no complaints from persons claiming to have consumed adulterated liquor.

In Mexico City, medical examiners found methanol in the blood of one of four people killed in a high-speed car accident last March, according to reporting by the Mexico City daily Excelsior.

The crash victims had reportedly been drinking at a bar in the upscale neighborhood of Polanco in the capital.