The Ministry of Commerce’s General Directorate of Consumer Protection, Competition and Fraud Repression (CCF) has called on consumers to remain vigilant before buying rice wine for consumption.

Many recent poisoning deaths due to drinking rice wine have been caused by high levels of methanol in the wine. The presence of high amounts of methanol is generally due to a lack of technical knowledge or skill on the part of the distiller.

Along with the call for vigilance, a specialist also claimed that measures had been taken to prevent rice wine poisoning incidents in the future.

In May, rice wine poisoning incidents occurred twice. The first killed 12 people and hospitalised many others on May 10 in Tasta commune’s Sary Takeo village in Kandal province’s Lvea Em district.

The second incident killed 10 people and again hospitalised many others on May 21 in Russey Srok Kang Koeut commune’s Thnung village and in Svay Tong Kaang Choeung commune’s Ka’ap village, both in Kampot province’s Kampong Trach district.

The CCF said in a letter on May 31 that traditional medicinal alcohol contained between 11.30 per cent and 12 per cent methanol, while the rice wine contained between 7.30 per cent and 12 per cent.

“Recently, rice wine poisoning incidents have occurred continually in the provinces. The incidents have killed many people and many more victims were admitted to hospital.

“According to analytic results of the rice wine along with traditional medicinal alcohol samples, both the rice wine and the medicinal alcohol were revealed to have high levels of methanol – enough to easily cause deaths,” according to the CCF.

“All vendors, producers and processors: Please use proper production methods and stop mixing your products with methanol or other poisonous substances. It damages the health and ends the lives of many of your customers and for that you must face the law,” the CCF added.

CCF director-general Phan Oun told The Post on June 1 that the CCF had taken urgent measures and required nationwide officials to inspect and search wholesale, retail and production locations for high levels of methanol to prevent its circulation.

He added that the CCF had also urged further restrictions on the prevention of the importation and circulation of methanol in large quantities.

“We will continue to take legal action. It means that if a vendor buys raw materials somewhere, we will go and search that place. If we find that the vendor has the intent to commit an offence, he or she can face a prison term of two to five years and other fines,” he said.