Food, dangerous food

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You don't have to swallow food for it to be dangerous -- or even kill you. As proof we offer this, mental_floss' honor roll of the weirdest food-related disasters in history.

1. The great beer deluge of 1814
Where it went down: London Towne's down-in-the-mouth East End.
What happened: When a 20-foot-high vat of beer fermenting inside the Meux and Company Brewery burst, the collateral impact smashed open several other large vats, creating a chain reaction. When the flood of suds hit the surrounding streets, it was more than a million liters strong.
Why 1,224,000 liters of free beer was considered problematic: Because it killed nine people -- eight from drowning and one from alcohol poisoning. The tidal wave of beer rushed down several city blocks, destroying two homes, knocking over walls and flooding basements. Survivors scooped up as much of the deadly brew as they could, in buckets, pots and cupped hands.
The verdict: A judge cleared the brewery of liability, calling the accident an "act of God." (I know some frat brothers who would agree.)

2. Boston's infamous molasses flood
When: About 100 years after the beer deluge, on January 15, 1919.
What went down: A six-story tank filled with 2.5 million gallons of molasses, thanks to an explosion inside the tank. 8 to 15-foot waves rushed down the streets of Boston's North End as quickly as 35 miles per hour, pushing buildings off their foundations, overturning cars and wagons and molassessing 21 people to death. Many rescuers became mired in the sticky goo, and so needed rescuing themselves.

Coincidence? Much of the molasses in question was to be used in making liquor. The day after the accident, Congress enacted Prohibition.
Legend has it: On hot summer days, you can still smell the sickly-sweet odor -- of disaster.
The verdict: Lawyers for the distilling company tried to pin the disaster on anarchist saboteurs, but despite this paid out millions in settlements to victims' families.

3. The Dublin Whiskey Fire
When: June 26, 1875.
What went down: According to the Illustrated London News, 1,800 "puncheons" of Irish whiskey (that is, casks) -- or about 560,000 liters of the stuff -- flowed down the streets of Dublin's run-down Liberties district.
Why that was a problem again? It was on fire. The lake of flaming whisky eventually burned three square blocks of the city; firefighters couldn't turn their hoses on it, for fear of spreading it even more. Crowds "took off their hats and boots to collect the whisky," and four people died "from the effects of drinking the stuff, which was burning hot as it flowed."
The verdict: The distillery got off Scot-free (so to speak); apparently it was the whiskey's fault, for being so flammable.

4. The near-sinking of the Cassarate
When: July 1972, off the coast of Wales.
The culprit: 1,500 tons of dry tapioca, stored in the ship's cargo hold.
What went down: The ship, almost, thanks in part to a fire that started on its deck. Overzealous fire crews extinguished the blaze, but the combination of water and heat cooked the tapioca -- which began to exapand dangerously, threatening to tear the Cassarate apart.
And? Despite the incredible pressure exerted on it by the quivering, glutinous mass in its belly, the ship held -- but just barely. Afterward, a relieved Cardiff fire chief credited his men with defusing the "ticking tapioca timebomb" -- 1,000,000 bowls-worth according to some estimates.
The verdict: Children have always hated tapioca -- now firefighters do too.

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October 2, 2006 - 5:44am
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