A nightclub in London, UK, has been fined after accidentally serving tequila shots with caustic soda instead of salt.
On 7 December 2021, four customers at Tiger Tiger nightclub asked for tequila shots, traditionally served with salt and lime. The barman noticed there was no salt and, according to the Westminster City Council, went to an unlit area behind the bar and scooped what he thought was salt into a cup from a white container on a shelf.
"The customers then poured the white substance onto the back of their hands, licked it and drank the shot," Westminster City Council explains. "At this point, the bartender realised something was wrong as the customers immediately became unwell. After tasting the substance for himself it burnt his mouth and tongue and immediately realised that it wasn’t salt."
The customers were taken to hospital, suffering from vomiting and burns in their mouths.
Technically, caustic soda is a salt, it's just not the type of salt you want to use to slam tequilas. You may know it by the name sodium hydroxide (NaOH), or "lye", as featured in the below scene from Fight Club.
The alkali salt is generally used for cleaning purposes. Contact with it can cause "severe burns to the eyes, skin, digestive system or lungs, resulting in permanent damage or death" according to the Tennessee Department of Health. These burns can be particularly nasty, even in comparison to acid burns.
"Most acids produce a coagulative necrosis by denaturing proteins, forming a coagulum (i.e. eschar) that limits the penetration of the acid," one case report of an alkali burn explains. "By contrast, alkali typically produces a more severe injury known as liquefactive necrosis. This involves the denaturing of proteins as well as saponification of adipose tissue, which does not limit tissue penetration. Alkalis cause deeper burns as they continue to penetrate the skin following initial contact."
The nightclub has now been charged under the Health and Safety at Work act, and fined £120,000.