Background: The research aimed to study the quality of cheap alcohol products in Poland. These included unrecorded alcohols (i.e., home-produced or illegally imported), estimated to constitute more than 25% of total consumption and fruit wines.
Methods: A sample of alcohol products (n = 52) was collected from local markets and chemical analyses were conducted. The parameters studied were alcoholic strength, volatiles (methanol, acetaldehyde, and higher alcohols), ethyl carbamate, inorganic elements, and food additives including preservatives, colors, and sweeteners. The compositions of the beverages were then toxicologically evaluated using international standards.
Results: With the exception of 1 fortified wine, the unrecorded alcohols were home-produced fruit-derived spirits (moonshine) and spirits imported from other countries. We did not detect any nonbeverage surrogate alcohol. The unrecorded spirits contained, on average, 45% vol of alcohol. However, some products with considerably higher alcoholic strengths were found (up to 85% vol) with no labeling of the content on the bottles. These products may cause more pronounced detrimental health effects (e.g., liver cirrhosis, injuries, some forms of malignant neoplasms, alcohol use disorders, and cardiovascular disease) than will commercial beverages, especially as the consumer may be unaware of the alcohol content consumed. Fruit wines containing between 9.5 and 12.2% vol alcohol showed problems in terms of their additive content and their labeling (e.g., sulfites, sorbic acid, saccharin, and artificial colors) and should be subjected to stricter control.
Regarding the other components investigated, the suspected human carcinogens, acetaldehyde and ethyl carbamate, were found at levels relevant to public health concerns. While acetaldehyde is a typical constituent of fermented beverages, ethyl carbamate was found only in home-produced unrecorded alcohols derived from stone fruits with levels significantly above international guidelines.
Conclusions: The contamination of unrecorded alcohols with ethyl carbamate should be analyzed in a larger sample that also should include legal alcoholic beverages. Furthermore, the impacts of unrecorded alcohol on the health of people with lower socioeconomic status should be studied in detail. Overall, given the extent of the alcohol-attributable disease burden in Poland, the highest priority should be given to the problem of ethanol and its very high content in unrecorded alcohol products.