Access to food and drink is essential to human life as without it we simply could not survive.
This makes the food industry vital to our quality of life and over the past 200 years, mankind has benefited from a multitude of advances.
There are times, however, when the production, storage, and transportation of food and drink can turn into tragedy.
Here are 10 true food disasters:
- 19th Century Deadly London Ale Storm: A wave of beer escaping a brewery may sound like a dream to some, but on Oct. 17, 1814, it was deadly when some 323,000 gallons of ale flooded the St. Giles rookery area in London from the Meux & Co’s Horse Shoe Brewery after a 22-foot tall, wooden vat of English porter exploded with enough force to send brewhouse bricks over neighboring roofs, releasing its contents, and knocking over adjacent vats. The coroner’s inquest officially said 8 people died, but some London papers reported between 20 and 30 people perished from the accident with many trapped in flooded basement dwellings by the ensuing 15-foot beer wave.
- My Wild Irish Whisky River Fire: On June 18, 1875, a fire at Malone’s malt house in Dublin caused many of the 5,000 barrels of whisky stored there to burst, sending a river of whiskey, reported at 2 feet across and half a foot deep, flaming through the streets. The whiskey river drew the attention of locals, some reportedly who took off their boots and scooped up the burning alcohol to drink it. The 13 reported deaths from the accident were all attributed to alcohol poisoning.
- World’s Largest Flour Mill Explodes: The world’s largest flour mill was built in 1874 along the Mississippi River near St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The 7-story mill owned by Cadwallader Washburn exploded on May 2, 1878, killing 14 workers inside and ultimately 18 total. The cause of the fire was traced to one spark that ignited flour dust in the air. The explosion was reportedly heard some 10 miles away.
- Sticky Situation in Boston Turns Deadly: Slow as molasses is a common idiom, but there was nothing slow about the 25-foot wave of molasses that flooded Boston’s North End on Jan. 15, 1919, traveling at an estimated 35 mph, and ultimately killing 21 people and injuring about 150. Much like the London beer flood, this tragedy was the result of a tall vat collapsing, this time a 50-foot-tall vat owned by the Purity Distilling Company which held 2.3 million gallons of molasses. Newspaper reports estimated that 1 million gallons of molasses escaped in the vat explosion, causing a nearby building to collapse which had a number of city public works employees inside eating their lunches.
- Mass Mercury Poisoning in Iraq: Grain treated with a methylmercury fungicide and not intended for human consumption was imported into Iraq in 1971 as seed grain from Mexico and the United States and mistakenly found its way into the food supply resulting in a recorded death toll of 459 but some estimates place the number killed closer to 5,000. Some reports lay the misunderstanding on warnings on the grain being in English and/or Spanish but not in Arabic. Also, the black-and-white, skull and crossbones design on the packages, understood in other parts of the world, was not identified as dangerous to the locals in Iraq.
- Who Doesn’t Love Pudding (Timebomb)? Well, when it is 1,500 tons of expanding Thai tapioca on a tanker … that may be a problem. In 1972 a tanker in Cardiff Bay, Wales caught fire with a large load of tapioca in the hold. While the fire was doused after several days, water from the firefighting efforts, as well as the heat of the flames, mixed with the tapioca to create a major mess of cooked pudding. The worry was the pudding would expand and split the vessel with AP reporting a fire chief saying, “It’s like a huge tapioca timebomb.” Fortunately, the pudding never exploded, and the situation was safely defused.
- Unpopular Wine Pairing: Perhaps one of the most unpopular wine pairings in history occurred in 1985 when it was discovered that some Austrian winemakers had sweetened some vintages with diethylene glycol, an ingredient found in antifreeze. The additive action took place after a tart harvest left winemakers searching for a way to make their offerings sweeter. The toxic substance was discovered by wine labs doing quality control tests on wines sold in West Germany. No deaths were reported, but Austrian wine exports took a major hit from the scandal.
- Flaming Drinks in Kentucky: One million gallons of bourbon went up in flames in 2000 when a Wild Turkey distillery and warehouse in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky exploded. The flaming alcohol spilled into the nearby Kentucky River. While no deaths or injuries were reported in the explosion the wildlife in the river did not fare as well. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources estimated that more than 228,000 fish perished in the largest such die-off in state history.
- Unpopular Hawaiian Pipeline: The Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii is one of the most popular surf reef breaks in the world, but another type of pipeline in September of 2013 was less popular when it malfunctioned and sent 1,400 tons of molasses into the Honolulu harbor. Sadly, the molasses deoxygenated the water and smothered bottom-dwelling species such as coral in the harbor with divers reporting that nearly all life in the harbor was killed by the accident. The toll included 26,000 fish and members of other marine species.
- Tunnel Fondue Not on the Menu: We all love melted cheese but not in Norway in 2013 when 27 tons of caramelized brown goat cheese caught fire on a truck and closed a road tunnel for five days as the fire raged. Police said that the high concentration of fat and sugar in the cheese made it burn “almost like petrol if it gets hot enough.”