Actually, The Lamp Oil Looked Like Apple Juice

There’s more to the story about the person who died from drinking lamp oil. One 84-year-old NJ lady died after mistaking tiki torch oil for apple juice. 4 other NJ residents were hospitalized after doing the same. One of them was an 8-year old girl, now suffering permanent lung damage. Oddly, the victims were located in separate parts of the state. NJ Poison Information and Education System executive director Steve Marcus told Gothamist, “During my 40 years in medicine, you get an occasional kid who ingests kerosene, but I have never seen this kind of cluster.” (The Happening Part 2? Neurotoxins disable the part of people’s brains that makes them distinguish between household cleaners and refreshing beverages?) All of them drank the same product, oil in a clear plastic bottle labeled “Tiki Torch Fuel,” sold by Lamplight Farms, Inc. Amber in color, it’s visually indistinguishable from apple juice. Don’t forget to always keep chemicals under the sink and away from food, and always in original bottles. That some of these almost seem designed to look like tasty energy drinks doesn’t help matters.

PREVIOUSLY: Don’t Drink Lamp Oil Or You’ll Die

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  1. tedyc03 says:

    I don’t want to blame the victims, but I do wonder about the taste. Did no one notice that it taste funny? My experience is that often they’ll put terrible tasting substances in anything like this so that this doesn’t happen. Or is that just for ethanol so people don’t get drunk at the gas pump?

  2. missdona says:

    Yeah, but.. doesn’t it still smell like kerosene?

  3. pmathews says:

    In college I took an engineering safety course and we read a book called “Set phasers to stun”. One of the stories involved a bartender serving highly caustic dishwashing liquid to patrons. They only scarred their insides though…

  4. BobbyMoon says:

    Oh New Jersey… Just oh.

  5. PinkBox says:

    @tedyc03: I’m guessing all it took was that first gulp in these cases. :/

  6. kalemaat says:

    What I’m wondering is just how much of this the people had to drink in order to get as sick as they did. This article states that they consumed “small amounts” of the oil, but it doesn’t mention anything more specific than that.

  7. Okay, the 8-year-old, I can understand that to a point – though when I was 8, I actually made a point of reading labels and being able to smell drinks before I ingested them. Last I remember, the oil for those tiki torches smells nothing like apple juice. Can’t figure out how this kid managed to drink tiki torch oil unless there was already some sort of developmental disability in play.

    But the 84-year-old lady? She’s just giving people from Jersey (such as myself) a bad name. That’s on par with “Oh, I forgot where the brake pedal was.”

    Sure, it looks like apple juice. But different varieties of Windex look like different varieties of Kool-Aid or fruit juice, especially when they come in the refill bottles and not the spray ones. I hate being all “blame the consumer”, but…

  8. emona says:

    I’m having a really, really hard time with sympathy in this. Regardless of color or crazy fruity scents, at one time someone had to pour this from the very obviously marked ‘Tiki TORCH FUEL’ bottle. Sold by Lamplight Farms. There’s even a tiny flame over the ‘I’.

    I’m not blaming anyone outright, but… how much more obviously marked could it be? I agree with a comment in the earlier post: Mr. Yuck needs a comeback.

  9. Trai_Dep says:

    I wonder if the cluster is a response to pack reporting. A story hits, then accidental ingestions ride a wave of being a “news story”.
    It seems that, lamp oil having been around since whaling days, this happened before. Possibly shrill over-reporting?
    Either that, or bathtub gin is making a comeback!

  10. MayorBee says:

    @pmathews: That’ll learn ‘em not to tip!

    I can maybe understand the 8 year old for not realizing it tasted different, but the 84 year old? I don’t have any oil burning lamps, so I don’t know for sure, but wouldn’t a kerosene based oil pour, smell, and taste different from apple juice? I do think that the product should be a more distinguishable color, though.

    “Don’t forget to always keep chemicals under the sink and away from food, and always in original bottles.”

    I think this is mostly good advice, except for the “under the sink” part. I had always heard that you want this stuff stored high up, away from where kids could get at it, unless you have the latches on the cupboards that make it hard for kids to open. Oh, and as pointed out yesterday, some Mr. Yuck stickers couldn’t hurt.

  11. MayorBee says:

    @edicius: Wow, you’re my posting twin.

  12. tcp100 says:

    Actually, the Tiki brand stuff has a kind of sweet, citronella-ish smell to it. It’s not as bad smelling as you’d think.

  13. shoelace414 says:

    If one person drank fuel, it’s closer to his/her fault, once two three and four people drink fuel, then the fault starts moving to the product. What can be done to make it less appetizing?

  14. pine22 says:

    -so i’m guessing the apple juice didn’t light the tiki torch very well…

    -doesn’t tiki torch fuel have a different viscosity than apple juice?

    -vodka is visually indistinguishable from water…

  15. loganmo says:

    Actually, I think that looks like a urine sample.

  16. @shoelace414: Oil me once, shame on you. Oil me twice…we won’t get oiled again.

  17. Oh I remember walking into Home Depot now and thinking, “My that looks like tasty juice they’re selling now. Wait, no, that’s lamp oil.”

    Where are the Mr. Yuk stickers when you need them?

    @MayorBee: 8 year old for not realizing it tasted different, but the 84 year old?

    These two age groups have a lot more in common than you think. For starters, there’s just a single digit between them.

  18. vladthepaler says:

    Doesn’t oil have a different viscosity and (once it’s in your mouth) a different flavour than apple juice?

    If you’re not sure whether the beverage you’re about to consume is apple juice, you could always try dropping a lit match into it. If it’s apple juice it’ll go out harmlessly; if it’s oil, well, then you should have read the label on the bottle before conducting that experiment.

  19. MikeF74 says:

    With the name “Feul” in it, I can see how one might confuse it for the plethora of over-caffeinated beverages out there. Doesn’t “Tiki Torch Fuel” sound like a kick-ass energy drink name?

    Substances like this shouldn’t be in clear bottles where the young and elderly might confuse it for a beverage. For the children, those substances should have been out of reach. For the elderly, it’s just sad… how can you blame them, it does resemble apple juice quite a bit (with the overly ornate ridged-plastic bottles and everything.

  20. @pine22: vodka is visually indistinguishable from water…

    Which is why it sometimes gets mixed into baby formula.

  21. Machina says:

    Natural selection, Darwinism, whatever you want to call it, I’m for it.

    Then again I am also the one rooting for the warning labels to be taken off meds. Maybe after we cull the herd a little we will be smarter as a whole.

  22. whatdoyoucare says:

    @edicius: Often people lose their sense of smell and concurrently their sense of taste as they age.

    Why doesn’t this company just put child proof lids on their products?

  23. Televiper says:

    Since taste and smell tend to have correlation it’s not surprising they wouldn’t add a foul taste to this product. It’s a chemical product that should be packaged like a chemical product. It should be in an opaque bottle with the proper warnings, and a locked cap. It shouldn’t be packaged like something cute, like say apple juice would be.

    I’ll bet most of these instances happened between trips to the cottage. Where everything was thrown into a laundry basket or box, or sat one place for a period of time. Is there even a prominent “Poison” logo on that bottle?

  24. Shadowman615 says:

    It’s also indistinguishable from urine, which makes this story even more baffling.

  25. Angryrider says:

    I don’t drink either. Lamp Oil is of course dangerous. Apple Juice gives me the runs.

  26. emona says:

    @MikeF74: If you are too elderly to sucessfully juggle a lamp oil vs fruit juice situation, I doubt you’d be any more sucessful when it comes to lamp oil vs match.

  27. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    @MayorBee: Since the 84 year old’s sense of taste and smell are likely much duller than the 8 year old’s I could argue it makes more sense the other way around.

  28. NotATool says:

    @whatdoyoucare: Exactly – why no childproof lid? While that may or may not have helped the 84-year-old, why not just put childproof lids on this?

    Many cleaning fluids and other poisonous products come with childproofing. I don’t think this would be too hard to do, and could help the lamp oil company avoid lawsuits.

    I’m usually an advocate for personal responsibility. However in this case there are several “victims,” which would suggest that there could/should be improvements made in the product or packaging to avoid this problem in the future.

  29. MikeF74 says:

    @emona: I know everyone likes to be caviler and tout “they derserve what they get because they’re stupid”… But if we can’t protect our children and elderly from themselves, then we’re all stupid.

  30. MayorBee says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: I didn’t think about it that way, but it makes sense. Of course, with so many occurrences, it could be a suicide cult.

  31. geoffhazel says:

    Waiting for the lawsuits against Tiki Torch Fuel to start in 3….2….1…..

  32. camille_javal says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: That’s what I was thinking – one of the reasons a lot of older people eat a lot of sweets is because it stays stronger than any other taste sensations. 84 also is old enough to have dementia on top of everything.

    Also, for the person who mentioned that a childproof cap might not have helped the 84 year old – well, for one, if she were arthritic, it would – in addition, if you try to open a bottle and suddenly notice it has a protective cap, it might hint to you that it wasn’t apple juice.

  33. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    …unless there was already some sort of developmental disability…
    @edicius: Maybe the 84 year old is a little senile?

  34. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    @camille_javal: I’m not trying to copy you I swear! :)

  35. alejo699 says:

    People die sometimes because they make mistakes. Why is there such a need to pin the blame on someone else? Yes, lamp oil looks like apple juice. Antifreeze looks like Gatorade, and I hear it even tastes sweet. Do we need legislation to change that? Or should we just acknowledge that sometimes people die?

  36. failurate says:

    @emona: The sticker could have fallen off.

  37. pmathews says:

    @MikeF74:

    I’d buy that. I’d of course have to remember to not try to use it in actual torches. I bet it would even have a snappy disclaimer to that effect.

    “Warning – Tiki Torch Fuel Energy Drink is not actual tiki torch fuel nor should it be used as such except in a tiki emergency.”

    I can see it as an Axe (body spray) type commercial.

  38. Anonymous says:

    evolution at work

  39. emona says:

    @MikeF74 @failurate: Okay, okay…. you’ve both got a point.

  40. MayorBee says:

    @catdogpigduck: I’m pretty sure the 84 year old woman was already out of the breeding stock.

  41. ThinkerTDM says:

    This is a new low in blame the consumer. It’s their own damn fault for reaching for a pale, amber colored liquid, pouring it into a glass without looking, and then chug it.
    Serves them right!

    I’m sure you geniuses have never been talking to someone in your kitchen, and reached for something in the fridge without looking, but many have.
    I imagine it would be pretty easy if you are distracted, and the substance was close enough (size, color, bottle shape) to what you wanted.

  42. lordargent says:

    LOLOIL?
    LOIL?

    /looks like cooking oil to me

    Anyway, after some google searching, I found this old article from 1997

    [www.cdc.gov]

    a 13-month-old boy was given ipecac inappropriately by his father after ingesting up to 1/2 cup of lamp oil

    Half a cup? Now do they mean an actual half of a measured cup (which is like one swallow) or half of a cup/glass?

    /Either way, that’s quite a bit for a 13 month old.

  43. Farquar says:

    @emona: Little old lady 84 year olds often can’t see a damn thing without their spectacles. And even with their glasses they might need a giant magnifying glass and a high powered spotlight. Maybe she didn’t buy it, we have no idea her living situation. She may have been living with one of her children and found the oil and thinking it was juice took some shots. (we, still, don’t know how much was ingested.)

  44. @MayorBee: Word.@whatdoyoucare: True, I hadn’t considered the loss-of-smell-and-taste factor. I’d say the viscosity of the stuff could be a giveaway failing the smell/taste test, but an elderly individual’s vision may not be that sharp. Of course, were one to accept that latter excuse, this woman could have just as easily poured a bottle of ANYTHING into a glass thinking it was apple juice. It’s tough to say overall, but I still have to lean toward consumer-error here as opposed to product-error.

  45. lordargent says:

    ThinkerTDM: I’m sure you geniuses have never been talking to someone in your kitchen, and reached for something in the fridge without looking, but many have.

    Why are people storing inedible things in their fridges? Do you store your bleach next to your vinegar?

    [consumerist.com]

    “One restaurant, Star of Siam, was cited for storing an open container of vinegar next to an open container of bleach.”

  46. Corydon says:

    I object more to unnaturally colored energy drinks than I do to unnaturally colored solvents and oils.

    It’s kind of sad that we accept brightly colored drinks like Gatorade and Kool-Aid without much of a thought.

    I’m also kind of at a loss to determine what the manufacturer could have done differently. I suppose the plastic bottle looks a bit like those newer, juice bottles with less plastic in them, but can you blame the manufacturer for cutting costs there and using less plastic?

  47. balthisar says:

    Uh, why force them to redesign the bottles not to look like beverages? Why not force the beverages to redesign their bottles not too look like tiki lamp fuel?

  48. MikeF74 says:

    @lordargent: At 13 months, I don’t think kids can even distinguish tastes. They’ll drink anything that is given to them.

  49. failurate says:

    It’s definitely consumer error. But, it should still serve as a caution to others, just as the dish soap/sauce story did, be careful how you store poisonous stuff.

    For the Darwin/they got what they deserved crowd, one these days when you are older and wiser, if you are lucky, you will give a damn about somebody.

  50. Triterion says:

    I blame the product designer for making that oil look so delicious! It even has those ridges on the sides like a water bottle does. I expect lamp oil to come in a red can or an opaque bottle at least…

  51. failurate says:

    @balthisar: It’s a minority vs majority thing. Why change many when you can change a few?

  52. whinypurist says:

    They don’t mention anything like this in the article, but New Jersey has lots of immigrants from lots of different places – maybe some or all were folks relying on the design for clues rather than the words on the label? Heck, even the word “fuel” is used to market “tasty energy drinks” pretty regularly.

  53. LordofthePing says:

    It’s odd, usually these oils have a strong odor that distinguishes them from juice. Also most have security caps. Perhaps placing them in opaque packaging will make it more obvious.

  54. gliscameria says:

    All this hoopla about ‘people dying’ and nothing about how friggin delicious it is!

  55. FromThisSoil says:

    Does no one take the time to actually READ what they are shoving into their faces?

    No, the store is not responsible, no, the manufacturer is not responsible. READ!

  56. Farquar says:

    @FromThisSoil: Does someone not read the comments that might illuminate commentor on the possibilities that recipient may not have been able to read said bottle?

  57. azntg says:

    @FromThisSoil: Agreed.

    But maybe it would still help if the manufacturer added some kind of coloring to the fuel, so instead of a clear, pale yellowish liquid, you can see some other color instead that’s not as easily mistaken for a soft drink?

  58. BrockBrockman says:

    They probably shouldn’t pack non-edible substances in containers that are usually used for edible products. It’s like packing engine oil in a milk carton.

  59. lordargent says:

    BrockBrockman: It’s like packing engine oil in a milk carton.

    Sweet, where can I buy some?

    /no more funnels

  60. grspec says:

    Ok, I was just walking through a store today and though, wonder how much that apple juice is… oh, that’s tiki torch fuel.

    Granted it would have to take a whole lot of not paying attention to actually have bought it, got it home, unbagged it, open and pour a glass, hold under nose and drink it.

  61. Televiper says:

    @azntg: The problem with adding colour to differentiate it from fruit drinks is what colours are fruit drinks not?

  62. MonstrousCosmos says:

    The thing about lamp oil (which comes in all colors, as well as clear) is that, as other commenters speculated, it has a very different viscosity and mouthfeel than juice or other water-based solutions. I can’t say I’ve ever actually ingested it, but I have used it for firebreathing, which means it’s been in my mouth. Not in a thousand years would I confuse it with something that should be swallowed. The taste is something like Mr. Clean flavored canola oil.

    I say we just need Mr. Yuck (as suggested above) and some sort of literacy campaign in New Jersey.

  63. getjustin says:

    @lordargent: I keep a bottle of vinegar next to my bleach and other cleaning products under the sink. Vinegar is great for cleaning glass and floors.

  64. Chaluapman says:

    Have you seen Fabuloso?

    [www.colgate.com]

  65. Heresy Of Truth says:

    I could see this happening with an elderly person. I have worked dementia wards for years, and even someone that only has a slight touch of dementia might find it hard to distinguish what they are eating, if they expect it to be something else. I had an elderly man, who was mostly (mostly!) with it, that ate crayons because he thought it was candy. Lucky for all around that crayons are pretty safe, as far as eating non food items are concerned.

  66. catnapped says:

    This stuff has been on the market for ages. NOW people are starting to consume it?

  67. godlyfrog says:

    @BrockBrockman: Ironic that you mention milk cartons, because my first thought on the new milk cartons was that they look like bleach containers.

    [consumerist.com]

    The article, however, says both the 8-year-old and the 84-year-old drank out of cups that they themselves didn’t pour, meaning that someone else made the mistake.

    Personally, I think it would be much easier to just require that cleaning products have green lids a la “Mr. Yuck”, and food products cannot use green lids.

  68. Mom2Talavera says:

    :::::::::::
    As a person drinks liquids from a cup ones nose usually takes an automatic whiff.

    They should have been able to smell that lamp oil odor as they brought the cup to there mouth.

  69. cjnewbs says:

    Surely this would have been in the household/garden chemicals section of a store. How often have you picked up juice from that aisle?? Other commenters have said how it doesn’t look like a fuel bottle, as it is clear. The picture of a burning torch and the words “Torch Fuel” seemed a bit of a give-away to me.

    Reading the linked article, I fail to see how someone mistook this for water?? Water is clear. This oil is yellow.

  70. RayDelMundo says:

    I have a bottle of this exact brand and it has a strong smell of oil and citronella. And now with lemongrass oil!

    They didn’t notice the smell?
    No hope for the stupid.

  71. ChuckECheese says:

    That does it. I’ll never drink juice again unless I can hold a match to it first.

  72. ChuckECheese says:

    It’s not so difficult to see how somebody could drink this stuff. Many seniors have poor smell and taste ability. Some are demented, and no longer understand the notion of safe/not safe to consume. Children have better sensory ability, but might drink something that looks like something they are already familiar with. It’s quite a stretch to call demented seniors and trusting children “stupid.”

  73. godlyfrog says:

    @Mom2Talavera: Actually, the reflex is to hold your breath, lest the drink go down the wrong pipe.

  74. Mudpuddle says:

    Was it poured in a glass like the ones pictured? Perhaps the orginating bottle was only marked on one side? I’m thinking the it should be required that all poisons be marked on everyside, like a label that goes all the way around. And a lid that is unmistakably hard to undo so the user knows it must be a hazardous liquid. I have noticed in the past that these containers provide little indication of what lays inside other than the intial singular label.

  75. synergy says:

    @godlyfrog: But you usually get in one good inhale before you drink. At which point you should be smelling what you’re about to drink.

  76. Gopher bond says:

    I always squirt saline in my eyes before I take my contacts out, makes it easier to remove them. While the bottle is always in the same place on the bathroom sink, and while nothing else is ever placed in that spot, and while the bottle always feel the same size, I always check to make sure it’s saline before I put it in my eyes.

    All it takes is once for that to be a bottle of something caustic.

  77. ziloz says:

    If the incident happened when the tiki oil was out and being used, then it makes more sense how it could happen.

    If I’m hanging out on someone’s deck at a cookout, I tend to assume that the large bottles of liquid that I see are beverages of some sort. At a gathering like that, I might not pay close attention to the label. The 84-year old woman might also have been unwilling (or too polite) to spit out a mouthful of something nasty when she realized it wasn’t what she thought.

    I’d blame the person who left the tiki oil out on the table at the cookout. Put the poisons away when you’re done with them!

  78. klusta says:

    @godlyfrog:

    “The article, however, says both the 8-year-old and the 84-year-old drank out of cups that they themselves didn’t pour, meaning that someone else made the mistake .”
    Uh, sure…”mistake”. Maybe that explains it all.

    Personally, I can’t understand how you’d make this mistake yourself: oil has an entirely different consistency than juice (oil vs. water…take a big swig of olive oil and you’ll understand); kerosene, even if it is laced with citronella, does not smell like juice ; there’s a friggin flame and the word “fuel” on the label — when was the last time you saw Fiery Apple Juice Fuel marketed; and who the hell keeps open fuel and juice right next to each other in the refrigerator?

    I can give the 84 and 8 year old a pass as someone apparently served it to them, but the others?

  79. karmaghost says:

    *sip* This apple juice tastes horrible. Oh well. *gulp*

  80. Vlet says:

    Why did someone put lamp oil in a cup?

  81. i’ve got more or less the same stuff right now, and i’m amazed that someone would be able to drink more than maybe a sip of it (though maybe a sip is all it could take).

    It smells like zippo fluid. The smell is strong. Hell it makes me near sick to fill up 3 torches (aside from the tiny necks the torches have on them making it impossible to fill them without a funnel without spilling anything). I suppose if one was drunk they could mistake them in color, but still, the smell is WICKED BAD.

    Anyhoo, Ben, the advice to store this sort of thing under the sink isn’t that great IMO. You wouldn’t store a gas can under the sink, you certainly shouldn’t have a gallon can of lighter fuel under there either. Stuff like this should be kept at the very least in the garage away from the kids, but even better would be in the shed, OUTSIDE, locked up.

  82. snoop-blog says:

    okay, but last time I bought tiki torch fuel, it had a special cap on it, like pill bottles. The last time I bought apple juice they did not.

  83. amightywind says:

    when i was in nursery school, there was an incident where one of the cleaning staff poured some cleaning solution into one of those opaque plastic juice jugs (you know, with the handle and pourer tip – dumb mistake, especially in A NURSERY SCHOOL) and left it on the table. at snack time, a (slightly careless) yet unsuspecting young helper poured several glasses of it to the kids, who started drinking it. apparently it was similar in color to juice. pretty quickly, the mistake was realized when kids started spitting it out and vomiting and crying, but still it could have been even worse. i was lucky to not get any juice yet, but about 5-6 kids had had some. this was over 20 years ago, and i feel like these kinds of things will continue to happen no matter what regulations there are due to our own human stupidity.

    @alejo699: anti-freeze tastes sweet just due to the nature of the ingredient, ethylene glycol, but the color is there for a reason. to the naked eye it looks neon green (an unfortunate coincidence now with gatorade’s many fancy colors – maybe they shouldn’t make drinks the color of anti-freeze….), but it has that dye there so that if someone is suspected to have ingested anti-freeze, it will fluoresce on imaging so doctors can know for sure and then appropriately treat.

  84. katylostherart says:

    ok so not just the taste and smell which are obvious indicators that it isn’t juice. but what about where it’s stored? or where in the store it was purchased? personally i find apple juice is generally sold refrigerated and frozen and then stored in the fridge. or in a big giant thing that has apples on it, like the mott’s brand style. tiki torch fuel would be by things like charcoal lighter fluid and not put in the fridge.

    unless people are now putting their lighter fluid in the fridge. is this a new trend? like dishsoap/lemon juice confusion. it’s dishsoap, it looks like dishsoap, as bitter as lemons are, they taste like lemon and not soap.

    and if you didn’t spit it out as soon as it hit your tongue wtf? dribble it back into the glass.

  85. maevealleine says:

    This is NOT, i repeat NOT the fault of the Tiki Torch manufacturer. They clearly labeled their product.

  86. hexychick says:

    I’m with @katylostherart: and @maevealleine: I still can’t see how this happened unless these items were both kept in the fridge or both kept in the pantry (because you can buy juice in plastic containers that can be stored unopened for quite some time) right next to each other. I can understand both the victims of 8 and 84 mistaking this because of poor eyesight or lack of judgement/comprehension, but where are these being stored to even get that confusion going in the first place?

    I can’t see how the company is at fault at all in this case. Even all over their website they have safety guidelines and “harmful or fatal if swallowed” on everything. Is there a piece of the puzzle we’re all missing?