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Study: Old potato led to botulism outbreak in Utah prison
Prison » Twelve inmates became sick in 2011 after drinking homemade brew.
First Published Dec 13 2013 12:22 pm • Last Updated Dec 14 2013 09:59 am

The inmate who cooked up some botulism-tainted jailhouse wine at the Utah State Prison in 2011 had brewed homemade alcohol before. But he made one — nearly fatal — mistake in October 2011.

He used a potato.

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According to a study about the botulism outbreak published this week in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, the inmate’s experimentation in putting an old potato among other ingredients in the plastic bag hidden in his cell led to the sickening of 12 inmates at the prison. The potato allowed botulism to develop, according to the article.

The 2011 incident was highlighted in the peer-reviewed journal for the American College of Emergency Physicians in an article entitled, "Emergency Department Identification and Critical Care Management of a Utah Prison Botulism Outbreak."

In 2010, 112 confirmed cases of botulism were reported in the United States, according to the Utah-based researchers, with only 8 percent of those cases resulting from food-borne incidents.

In the Utah case, researchers said eight of the 12 inmates who were sickened by the bad brew were diagnosed with "acute botulism poisoning." This incident is one of the largest food-borne botulism outbreaks since 2006, according to researchers.

The inmate who made the so-called "pruno" told medical officials that he had made the brew — which contained a two-week old baked potato, powdered juice mix and several types of fresh and canned fruit — about 20 times before. But this was the first time he had added a potato, thinking it would "accelerate fermentation."

Eight inmates came to the emergency department of the University of Utah hospital in early October 2011 with trouble swallowing, double vision, difficulty speaking and weakness about 54 hours after they ingested the bad pruno.

According to the researchers, the amount of pruno consumed varied between prisoners, with some patients reporting that they had ingested over two gallons of the brew. The three most severely affected patients had respiratory failure and needed to be intubated to keep them breathing. All patients received a botulism anti-toxin after being admitted to the hospital.

The study was published online Tuesday, and can be read here.

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Twitter: @jm_miller

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