Regulation & Safety

Coked up Caribbean soft drink would never hit major UK retailer

12-Dec-2013 - By Ben Bouckley+
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A UK Navy veteran has died after drinking a Caribbean pear juice drink loaded with cocaine, and police say they believe he drank a 'rogue bottle' taken from a consignment used to store drugs.

But leading food safety expert Professor Tony Hines, from Leatherhead Food Research, says such a tainted product would never get near the shelves of a mainstream UK retailer.

Hampshire Police said in a statement last night that 33 year-old Joromie Lewis from Gosport, Hampshire, became ill immediately after drinking the pear fruit drink - Cole Cold Pear-D - in Southampton and died within hours at a city hospital on December 5.

"It appears from police inquiries that Mr Lewis ingested a small amount of liquid in the belief he was drinking a genuine pear drink," a police spokeswoman said.

Detective superintendent Richard Pearson, who is heading up Operation Crab looking into Lewis's death, said: "We are working closely with partner agencies, including Southampton's Regulatory Services, Public Health England, the Food Standards Agency and other law enforcement agencies, including the National Crime Agency, to minimize any risk to the public and to investigate the circumstances leading to the tragic death of Mr Lewis."

Police said they were supporting Lewis's family and linking closely with public health departments, and having analyzed the bottle's contents chose to issue a public alert through the Food Standards Agency.

"Inquiries to date have not identified any further incidents or similar bottles. The investigation suggests that this was likely to be a rogue bottle from a consignment of drugs stored in plastic juice bottles. If anyone finds a bottle of Pear D juice, do not open the bottle. If sealed, the bottle is perfectly safe. Take the bottle to the nearest police station, and we will examine the contents if appropriate," they added.

The nation's Food Standards Agency (FSA) said that bottles bear the manufacturer's name S.M. Jaleel & Co Ltd, Otaheite, Trinidad.

This company told the FSA that they do not export Pear-D to the UK, and that the label was last produced in September 2013 for the local Caribbean market.

The FSA is warning the public that all dates and batch codes of Cole Cold Pear-D - in 590ml bottles - pose a risk.

Stating the obvious, the FSA said that the presence of cocaine represented a "very serious health risk" that made the product unsafe for consumption under Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No. 178/2002.

"Investigations are ongoing to find out whether more bottles of the product have been distributed in the UK. Members of the public should not consume this product and, if found, should take it to their local police station. Pictures of the product and more information about this issue can be found via the links below," the FSA said.

"Despite investigations by the enforcement authorities, it has not yet been possible to obtain any distribution details for this product," the agency added.

Professor Tony Hines, from Leatherhead Food Research, told BeverageDaily.com that such cases of intentional adulteration using drugs were extremely rare: "I've never heard of alcohol or any other beverage being used as a vehicle to conceal cocaine. Whether or not the technology is available to transport cocaine dissolved in a drink, I don't know," he said.

"The implications are quite serious if there are such drinks entering the UK, we need to understand the traceability. I don't think this kind of drink would ever get on the shelves of a mainstream UK retailer. Because their robustness, their background due diligence testing would be enormous," Hines added.

"This is more likely to be a convenience store style operation. The FSA is investigating, but one bottle in the country seems a bit bizarre."

Related topics: Regulation & Safety, Soft Drinks & Water