Fireball recall raises health concerns for Iowa City

Servers at Martini's Bar in Iowa City estimate an average consumption of sixty to ninety Liters of Fireball Whiskey per weekend.  -- photo by Ted Van Pelt via Flickr Creative Commons
Servers at Martini’s Bar in Iowa City estimate an average consumption of sixty to ninety Liters of Fireball Whiskey per weekend. — photo by Ted Van Pelt via Flickr Creative Commons

Finland, Sweden and Norway recently announced a recall on all bottles of Fireball Whiskey after learning that the American version of the popular liquor contains antifreeze. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), an allergic reaction can appear if propylene glycol, the type of antifreeze in question, is consumed in large amounts. The manufacturer, Sazerac, told CBS News that Fireball Whiskey contains less than an eighth of propylene glycol that the FDA allows in foods.

The ATSDR lists e-cigarettes and vaporizers among products that use propylene glycol. (It can produce artificial smoke.) Natural News, a health news aggregate site, claims that the antifreeze can be found in many foods and cosmetics sold in the United States.

The European Union, by comparison, is stricter about what is and is not allowed in their food. The use of preservatives and artificial sweeteners is highly regulated, and propylene glycol is carefully restricted. A type of Fireball with a reduced amount of this chemical is sold throughout Europe; the recalled bottles contained the U.S. version, and had been released by mistake.

When Fireball first came on the market, George’s Buffet in Iowa City went through four-to-six bottles a week.

“Fireball is unique,” says George’s bartender Alex Karr. “We have a 21-year-olds [order it] and then we have 75-year-olds enjoying it.”

Although many of the customers are aware of the anti-freeze ingredient, employees at George’s have noticed a recent fall in Fireball sales.

“Some of the customers have mentioned it,” Kelsey Karr, another bartender at George’s, says of the whiskey’s worrisome ingredient. “Now, we go through around one-and-half bottles a week.”

Iowa City may still have cause for concern, however. The quantity of Fireball whiskey consumed per week is still fairly large for many bars in the Ped Mall and downtown area. Martini’s Bar, for example, goes through one-and-a-half cases of Fireball in a typical summer week. During the school year, that number increases even more dramatically. One Martini’s employee, Joey Grabarits, estimates consumption rates as high as a case per night on weekends.

In other words, students are drinking between sixty and ninety Liters of Fireball per night at Martini’s alone. Each bottle contains around sixteen shots and, according to Grabarits, Fireball is by far the most popular shot among college students in Iowa City.

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