Pruno: A Recipe for Botulism

You may have heard about a cheap, quick way to make a kind of homemade alcohol that goes by many different names, including pruno, hooch, brew, prison wine, and buck. No matter what it’s called, it can give you more than a cheap buzz. It can give you botulism, a life-threatening illness.

What is botulism?

Botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by a toxin (poison) that attacks the body’s nerves and can lead to paralysis and death. Because the disease can paralyze the muscles used in breathing, people can die soon after symptoms first appear. Even those who get medical treatment right away may be paralyzed and hooked up to a ventilator (breathing machine) for many weeks.

One way people get botulism is by eating or drinking something that has the toxin in it. Some prison inmates in California, Arizona, Utah, and Mississippi have gotten botulism after making and drinking pruno. Almost all of those inmates had to be hospitalized for treatment, and many were put on a ventilator (breathing machine) for days or even weeks. All of the botulism outbreaks linked to pruno have occurred among inmates. However, anyone who drinks this kind of alcohol is at risk.

How can pruno give me botulism?

When people make pruno, they usually ferment fruit, sugar, water, and other common ingredients for several days in a sealed plastic bag. Making alcohol this way can cause botulism germs to make toxin (poison). The toxin is what makes you sick.

It’s hard to know if pruno has botulism toxin in it, because you can’t see, smell, or taste the toxin.

How can I stay safe?

If you make pruno, you put yourself and anyone who drinks it in danger of getting botulism. The alcohol in your drink won’t destroy the toxin (make it harmless). The only way to be sure you don’t get botulism from pruno is to not drink it.

We don’t know how to make this kind of alcohol safely. But we do know that batches of pruno that gave people botulism used at least one of these ingredients:

  • Potatoes
  • Honey
  • Food from bulging cans

How would I know if I have botulism?

If you drink pruno and have symptoms of botulism, get medical help immediately. Be sure to tell your doctor that you drank pruno. The sooner you get medical help, the better your chances of surviving the illness.

Remember, if you want to keep from getting botulism, your best bet is to not drink pruno. But if you do and you have symptoms of botulism, get medical help immediately and tell your doctor that you drank pruno.

Some of the symptoms of botulism are:

  • Double vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • A thick-feeling tongue
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle weakness

As the disease gets worse, you may develop more symptoms, such as:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Paralysis (can’t move your body)