Fireball Cinnamon Whisky is taking heat in Europe over a chemical ingredient that's used in some forms of antifreeze.
Norway, Sweden and Finland have recalled the popular cinnamon-flavored liqueur -- a trendy favorite of sweet-toothed college students -- after a batch of the North American recipe, which contains higher levels of propylene glycol, was shipped there, its manufacturer said on Tuesday.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says propylene glycol is “generally recognized as safe” for use in food, where it is used to enhance flavor by absorbing water. Sazerac, the New Orleans-based beverage company that owns Fireball, puts more propylene glycol in its drinks sold in America and Canada than in Europe.
On Fireball's website, the company has posted a vigorous defense of its drink, noting that pharmaceutical-grade propylene glycol, which is used in food, is handled according to stricter standards than is industrial grade propylene glycol, which is used in antifreeze. "Fireball is perfectly safe to drink," the statement reads. "Just as it always has been."
Propylene glycol can have toxic effects in some circumstances, including for people suffering with pre-existing skin or eye conditions, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. In recent years, the substance has been used as a less-toxic alternative to ethylene glycol in antifreeze, which was killing pets who lapped up the sweet-tasting engine fluid. But the Humane Society warns that propylene glycol is "still toxic."
The European Union’s stricter guidelines on recommended levels of propylene glycol forced state-owned retailers to yank the drink from shelves in Sweden and Finland over the last week. Norway, which is not part of the European Union, also pulled the product.
Europe generally enforces tighter regulations of ingredients used in food. Earlier this year, Subway said it would remove a chemical commonly used in yoga mats from its bread. The substance, azodicarbonamide, was banned in Australia and Europe. In May, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola vowed to axe brominated vegetable oil, prohibited for food use in Australia, Europe, India and Japan, from its soft drinks in North America. The coloring agents found in soda, candy and macaroni-and-cheese are banned in Norway and Austria, and require a warning label when used in products sold in the European Union.
"Unfortunately, Fireball shipped its North American formula to Europe and found that one ingredient is out of compliance with European regulations," the company said in a statement on its website. "Finland, Sweden and Norway have asked to recall those specific batches, which is what the brand is doing."
The company said it expects to be back on the shelves in those countries "within three weeks" without the chemical.
"As I’m sure you are aware, Europe, as with many things, has different rules for product formulation," Amy Preske, a spokeswoman for Sazerac, wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. "Hence we have a different formula for Europe."
Sazerac said it uses one-eighth of the FDA-approved amount of propylene glycol in its North American formula.
Fireball, a syrupy liqueur that tastes like Red Hots candy or Wrigley’s Big Red chewing gum, skyrocketed in popularity in recent years. Sales of the 66-proof drink, which contains less alcohol than actual whiskey, zoomed past Jameson Irish whiskey and and Patrón tequila last year, topping $61 million, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
The FDA has no plans to ban sales of the drink.
This story has been updated with information from Fireball's website.