Toilet brew strikes Utah prisoners with botulism

The Salt Lake Valley Health Department confirmed Wednesday it is investigating an illness — suspected to be foodborne botulism — in 12 inmates of the Utah State Prison.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports eight inmates, three of whom are in critical condition, are receiving treatment at a local hospital, and four are under medical observation at the prison.

All the affected inmates consumed home-made alcohol brewed inside a cell at the prison, according to a health department news release.

The inmates affected likely came in contact with the bacteria by drinking brew, alcohol made in a cell, apparently in a plastic bag. Inmates often use fruit, water and sugar to craft the brew, which they often hide in the cell’s toilet, and when those foods are in an anaerobic environment they can create a breeding ground for the bacteria.

According to confiscation reports obtained earlier this year by The Tribune, brew is made fairly frequently, with 44 confiscations of the substance occurring between October 2009 and December 2010. However, the prison has not ever had a case of botulism, according to Nicholas Rupp, public information officer for the health department.

But "there’s always a health risk any time there is inappropriate food handling," Rupp added.