How the Heck Do You Make Powdered Alcohol?

It looks like powdered alcohol is no longer approved, but we're still wondering how it's made

The Internet was in a tizzy yesterday over what appeared to be the approval of powdered alcohol, which had the potential to be added to water or food, or snorted.

But if it sounds too ridiculous to be true, it probably is—for now. The labels for the powdered alcohol, branded “Palcohol,” were approved in error, and the product’s label approval was rescinded yesterday by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The company that makes Palcohol, Lipsmark, had this to say on its site: “We have been in touch with the TTB and there seemed to be a discrepancy on…how much powder is in the bag. There was a mutual agreement for us to surrender the labels. This doesn’t mean that Palcohol isn’t approved. It just means that these labels aren’t approved. We will re-submit.”

So while it appears powdered alcohol’s move to market has been stalled, we’re still scratching our heads: Considering how quickly liquid alcohol evaporates, do you make it powdered?

Palcohol, it turns out, is not the first attempt at a powdered alcohol. According to patent data, General Foods Corporation (now a subsidiary of Kraft) patented a couple of ways to make “alcohol-containing powder” in the early 1970s. In their process, they took a carbohydrate and broke it down through a process called hydrolysis, rendering it into a white powder. According to John Coupland, a professor of food science at Penn State University and spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists, they then combined that powder with pure liquid alcohol, which stuck to the powder, essentially capturing the alcohol in white dust. “It would feel dry to your hands,” Coupland says.

The Palcohol makers are not revealing how they make their product, which comes in cosmopolitan, mojito, margarita, and lemon drop flavors. “They say that they are trying to patent it at the moment, which suggests they have something novel, but I have no clue what that could be,” says Coupland.

So it looks like powdered alcohol is indeed possible, but won’t be for sale anytime soon. For now, you’re still going to have to consume your alcohol with dinner—instead of sprinkled on top of it.

 

What Americans Think About Birth Control Coverage

69% of surveyed Americans support coverage for birth control

There’s debate over whether all health plans in the United States should be required to cover the cost of birth control. An overwhelming majority of Americans—69%—say yes, according to a breaking survey published in the journal JAMA.

While this suggests the issue is less divisive than previously thought, it’s still a hot-button topic in the courts. In June, the Supreme Court is expected to reach a decision in the Hobby Lobby case, in which the owners of the arts-and-crafts chain, who are Southern Baptists, contend that their right to exercise religious freedom are infringed upon by the Affordable Care Act provision requiring them to guarantee no-cost birth control and emergency contraceptive coverage for their employees.

Although most Americans are in favor of the mandated birth control coverage—77% of women and 64% of men—it was the least agreed upon when compared with other health services under the ACA provision. Coverage of preventive services like mammograms and colonoscopies, vaccinations, mental health care, and dental care all had more support than mandatory contraceptive coverage, according to the JAMA poll. (Birth control coverage has the most support among women, and black and Hispanic respondents.)

The researchers hope their data can be used to inform the ongoing national debate over contraceptive coverage.

Saudi Arabia

Fears Rise Over MERS Outbreak While Saudis Fumble

The deadly virus had been linked to contact with camels, but hints of a rise in human contagion have been muddied by a sluggish government response, which has not confirmed whether the virus is mutating, nor performed the tests that would reveal if that is the case

The sudden spike in cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, in Saudi Arabia came soon after camel-racing events at the Jenadriyah Festival in Riyadh. That suggested the surge in the incurable coronavirus, which resembles pneumonia but is fatal to 1 in 3 who contract it, confirmed what scientists already knew of the disease: that camels seem to be reservoirs for the virus, and transmit it to humans more easily than humans do to one another.

But with the number of cases picking up, there are worries that may be changing. And if the virus has mutated to increased person-to-person contagion, it has potentially catastrophic implications for another annual festival: the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina known as hajj. More than a million Muslims from around the globe gather in the western Saudi cities during the first week of October, then return to their home countries, which last year numbered 188. In an age when international travel has dramatically exacerbated the spread of new viruses like SARS, virologists say the mounting concern is only too clear.

The worries are aggravated by the performance of the Saudi government, which has failed to confirm whether the virus is, in fact, mutating. The Saudis have either not performed tests that would reveal the changes, or have not shared them with international authorities, virologists complain. On Monday, Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabiah was fired amid mounting criticism of the kingdom’s handling of the budding crisis.

“It’s frustrating,” says Ian Mackay, an associate professor at the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre at the University of Queensland, who compared the Saudi handling of MERS with China’s response to the 2013 outbreak of bird flu. outbreak of bird flu. “With the H7N9 virus, China provided almost too much information. You worried about the privacy of some of the patients, given the level of detail that China was providing.

“But we’re seeing the complete opposite extreme in Saudi Arabia, where you can’t even get the sex of the patient in some cases,” Mackay tells TIME. “And the WHO doesn’t seem to be getting that information either.”

Indeed, the World Health Organization as good as confirmed it did not have the latest information from Riyadh in declining to comment on the outbreak on Tuesday afternoon. “Kindly be advised that we cannot comment on latest MERS figures since we do not have the latest case count,” the WHO’s media office says in an emailed reply to questions from TIME. “And we can only communicate and comment on the cases that we have been officially notified of by a member state, namely Saudi Arabia.”

Concerns that the virus may have mutated are focused on two clusters of cases among health care workers: one cluster is in Jeddah, the western Saudi city through which pilgrims pass en route to nearby Mecca. The other cluster is among paramedics in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.

Mackay, who noted the clusters in his blog, says he can see two possible explanations: “One is a fairly bad but widespread breakdown of infection control and prevention protocols” among the health care workers — that is, nurses or doctors failing to use gloves, surgical masks or other standard measures designed to prevent infection while working with a MERS patient. Such a breakdown would be possible even in a well-equipped and prosperous Gulf nation, Mackay noted, but for both outbreaks to take place at the same time “would be fairly coincidental.”

The other, more alarming possibility? “The other avenue is the virus has changed and become more easily transmitted between humans,” Mackay said.

That is cause for concern way beyond the Middle East. “When humans readily transmit to humans, that’s what will cause a worldwide outbreak,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told National Public Radio. “We are very concerned that … with what we’ve seen over the last two weeks … we may be at that point now.”

Whether the virus has, in fact, mutated dangerously cannot be known until the Saudis examine the genome of the latest samples of the virus and share the results. The WHO has said it is “working closely” with the kingdom, but has not issued any conclusions. Another way to find out if the virus has mutated would be if the number of cases were to skyrocket. But with only 344 cases worldwide so far — a decade ago, SARS infected at least 8,000, and killed 775 — the count remains low, and awareness is growing.

In 2013, concerns over MERS kept many as a million people away from hajj, an obligation that the Koran imposes upon any Muslim who can afford the trip. Saudi authorities discouraged attendance by the very young, the elderly, pregnant women, and people already suffering from chronic illness, a major risk factor for the virus. Still, more than 3 million people circulated at the holy sites for five days, at close quarters. With the risk of mass contagion in the air this year, the world may be hoping for a better reaction from Saudi Arabia than it has got so far.

medicine

‘Are Your Children Vaccinated?’ Is the New ‘Do You Have a Gun in the House?’

baby arm vaccines
Summer Yukata—Getty Images/Flickr RF

Most of your parenting choices don't affect me. Having a loaded weapon in your house does. The same is true when you don't immunize your children.

I try not to judge other parents. If you want your whole family to sleep together in one giant bed, it is none of my concern. If you feel like breastfeeding your kid until he’s in junior high school, go for it. If you don’t want to or can’t breastfeed, hey, formula is good too. To binky or not to binky? Maybe that is the question in your house, but I am positive you will make the right decision. Either way, I could really care less. Most of your parenting choices don’t affect me or my children. Having a loaded weapon in your house does. It has the potential to do serious harm to, and possibly kill, my child. The same is true when you decide not to immunize your children against preventable infectious diseases.

My kids are five and two. They have gone through most of their early childhood vaccinations. With all the coverage in the news lately about the return of the measles and the mumps (seriously, mumps is a thing again?), I called the pediatrician to confirm that their immunizations were up to date. I found out that I had somehow missed my two year old’s second MMR vaccination. Just in case you don’t know, those two “Ms” stand for measles and mumps! Crud… I was an accidental anti-vaxxer! It was an oversight that I quickly remedied. That was a close one! What if my little dude had come in contact with one of the unvaccinated!? Chances are, nothing. But maybe, something. And if it was something, that thing could have been catastrophic.

I’ve been wondering lately if I have any friends who are anti-vaxxers. Some of the dads in my playdate group are kind of out there: musicians, actors, and such. One is a big conspiracy theory guy. Another is active in the Occupy movement. Who knows what kind of wacky stuff they’re up to? Maybe they hopped aboard the trendy not-getting-your-kids-immunized train. I brought it up with a couple of them. Luckily, no true nut jobs. (Well, about this issue anyway. They’re an odd bunch, but in the best ways.)

There is one dad who is not fully on board with vaccines, deeming some of them unnecessary. He felt that the reason a lot of vaccines are required by schools is because the state has a financial interest in…I don’t know…their sale and distribution or something. It was the conspiracy guy, and I had kind of a hard time following his logic. He also does not agree with the recommended vaccination schedule, asserting that getting too many at a time weakens a child’s immune system. (A reasonable-sounding concern some might think, though there is absolutely no evidence supporting it.) But, even if somewhat grudgingly, he vaccinates his daughter. Whew! We can still hang out; our children can still be friends.

I’m sort of joking…but the truth is, I’m not sure what I would do if I found out that one of my playgroup buddies was an anti-vaxxer. I really like those dudes! And most of the kids have known each other so long, they view each other as second cousins.

At this point — especially since I rectified my earlier negligence — my children are out of the danger zone. Not all vaccines are 100% effective, but I feel relatively safe. Yet, I remain rankled by the anti-vaxxers. There is still a chance that my children could be a part of the unlucky few who are vaccine resistant. Though the risk to my children is small, there are other children who are too young for certain vaccines. Anti-vaxxers are unnecessarily putting those kids in harm’s way (not to mention the potential danger to their own offspring). They are, in fact, banking on others getting vaccinated to protect their own children from the spread of disease. It just seems so selfish. Of course, they believe that they are doing what is best for their kids and are likely discounting the exposure of other children.

I understand that injecting something into your child that you do not fully comprehend is scary. Most parents are not scientists or doctors. I’m certainly not. I also understand that nothing I say is going to convince anti-vaxxers that vaccinations are safe; their minds are already made up. Other people, who are much smarter than I am, have made a pretty compelling case for the efficacy of immunizations. Yet the anti-vaxxer movement seems to be on the rise. If you are on the fence, I ask only that you don’t just do your “research” on anti-vaxxer websites. That is not really research; it’s confirmation.

Not vaccinating your children is that odd family decision that has potential real life consequences outside your home. It should come with a certain set of responsibilities. If you have a gun in your house, you are expected to safely secure it. If you have decided not to immunize your children, it is incumbent on you to make sure other children are not exposed to an unnecessary threat of infectious disease. It may seem harsh to equate an innocent child with a loaded weapon, but if that child comes into contact with a virus he is not immunized against, the metaphor is apt. Most of the time, because of herd immunization, unvaccinated children are not exposed to these diseases. They are, therefore, harmless: unloaded and secured. As we have seen with recent outbreaks, however, the safety of the herd does not hold up when too many people opt out.

If you are worried about anti-vaxxers in your playgroup, you need to find out for yourself and not wait for other parents to bring it up. It is not a topic you should debate (trust me, you will not persuade your anti-vaxxer friend to immunize her child), but it is important to have the information. If there are unimmunized children in the group, consult your pediatrician about what increased risks there may be to your child. Then, you can make an informed decision about what is best for you and your family.

Lesser blogs at Amateur Idiot/Professional Dad. You can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter (@amateuridiot).

Culture

Feds: Powdered Alcohol Approved in ‘Error’

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau rescinded its April 8 'label approval' of controversial new product Palcohol

The federal government admitted Monday that its recent approval of Palcohol—a powdered alcohol which turns water into vodka and rum—was actually done in “error.”

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau granted Palcohol “label approval” on April 8 only to withdraw it 13 days later. “TTB did approve labels for Palcohol,” it said in a statement. “Those label approvals were issued in error and have since been surrendered.”

Palcohol’s parent company Lipsmark said in a statement that “there seemed to be a discrepancy on our fill level, how much powder is in the bag” and that the approvals were surrendered on the afternoon of April 21. “This doesn’t mean that Palcohol isn’t approved,” it said. “It just means that these labels aren’t approved. We will re-submit labels.” Palcohol will have to resubmit labels for approval to the bureau, which is part of the Department of Treasury.

The government had originally approved various types of Palcohol—ranging from lemon drops to cosmopolitans. Various news outlets noted the approval of the product more than a week later, when it began covering the science and safety of the powdered drink.

And with good reason, as powdered alcohol has the potential to be a public health nightmare. Beyond the fact that it’s easy for underage drinkers to use discreetly, the potential for users to snort it is serious business. Snorting alcohol is dangerous because it’s quickly absorbed, and users get intoxicated immediately. People have already tried snorting liquid alcohol, and that can cause damage to nasal passages.

Palcohol’s marketing has not always taken this threat entirely seriously. According to blog SB Nation, Palcohol’s website originally stated:

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room….snorting Palcohol. Yes, you can snort it. And you’ll get drunk almost instantly because the alcohol will be absorbed so quickly in your nose. Good idea? No. It will mess you up. Use Palcohol responsibly.

The site has since clarified, “There was a page visible on this site where we were experimenting with some humorous and edgy verbiage about Palcohol. It was not meant to be our final presentation of Palcohol.” The company was not immediately available for comment.

Family

Michelle Obama: I Love ‘Splurging’

US-POLITICS-EASTER-OBAMA
U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama speaks alongside President Barack Obama and the Easter Bunny during the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., on April 21, 2014 SAUL LOEB—AFP/Getty Images

The First Lady said that pigging out on favorite foods was fine from time to time, just so long as kids maintain a balanced diet and do plenty of regular exercise

Michelle Obama said Monday that “splurging is the key to life,” as long as it’s a small part of a healthy lifestyle.

“How would you appreciate vegetables if you never had chocolate?” the First Lady said during the White House Easter Egg Roll. “You couldn’t live without a little chocolate, a little French fries.”

The First Lady took questions from kid reporters during a question-and-answer session at the annual White House Easter event, and emphasized that occasionally splurging was O.K. as part of a balanced diet, alongside regular exercise, the Associated Press reports. “I still splurge when I can, but that’s why I try to exercise almost every day,” she told the young journalists, ages 6 to 13 years old.

Obama also said that her favorite sport is tennis, and she plays with her daughter Malia about once a week. She added that Malia also likes track and Sasha likes basketball and dance.

[AP]

How the Teen Stowaway Survived His Trans-Pacific Flight in a Wheel Well

A 16-year-old hopped the fence at San Jose International Airport and squeezed into the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines flight bound for Maui, where he emerged confused but unharmed some five hours later after surviving without oxygen at 38,000 feet

Authorities are still investigating the case, but a 16-year old stumbled out of a Hawaiian Airlines flight from San Jose, Calif., to Maui on Sunday, after apparently hitching a ride in the wheel well of a Boeing 767. Officials say he was unconscious during most of the five-and-a-half-hour flight, and is lucky to have survived.

The plane reached an altitude of 38,000 feet, at which point oxygen is scarce and the brain shuts down, say experts. Without enough oxygen to keep brain cells functioning, people at high altitudes first develop lightheadedness, and, if they don’t receive oxygen, lose consciousness in a matter of minutes.

Here’s what the teen faced, and experts’ best guesses as to how he survived:

Lack of oxygen

Without oxygen, nerve cells in the brain start to falter, resulting in dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, and loss of appetite and energy. Because the brain regulates much of the body’s metabolism, a de-oxygenated brain can lead to other organ failure as well. Fluid can build up in the lungs and brain and lead to potentially fatal swelling.

In this case, the teen’s youth could have been an advantage. “The brains of young people are more adaptable, and recoveries of kids who were comatose for a long period of time are more likely than recoveries among older patients,” says Dr. Ben Honigman, medical director of the Altitude Medicine Center at the University of Colorado.

Researchers are also finding that some genes that can predict who suffers from altitude-related sickness. That may explain why certain people experience more symptoms in mountain regions, while others, perhaps such as this teen, could pass out but regain consciousness when back at sea level.

There may be psychological contributors as well. According to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) report [PDF] of 10 such cases involving 11 wheel well stowaways, five survived flights that reached as high as 39,000 feet. Many were politically motivated to escape, which FAA officials believe may have contributed to their ability to reach a “virtual ‘hibernative’ state” in order to survive. In a more recent study by researchers at the FAA and Wright State University, two passengers survived flights at 35,000 feet – one from Havana to Madrid and another from Bogota to Miami. The scientists speculate that the gradual climb of the plane allowed the stowaways to acclimate somewhat to the changing air pressure and low oxygen conditions, although Honigman notes that such acclimation occurs over just 10 to 20 minutes, while most mountain climbers take days or even weeks to acclimate to altitudes higher than 20,000 feet.

Frigid temperatures

At plane-flight altitudes, temperatures can drop to 80 degrees below freezing, another way stowaways can die. But according to the Wright State study, some heat from the hydraulic lines powering the wheels and residual heat from the tires can warm up the well slightly, and that same source of heat during descent may help some stowaways regain consciousness. “I have to think that the temperature in the wheel well wasn’t around minus 40 degrees,” says Honigman. “I can’t conceive that he could have survived those temperatures for five hours; he would have been frost bitten or turned into an icicle.”

Even if it were that cold, there is a remote chance that the cold may have helped the teen survive the journey. Some research on survivors of near-drownings in lakes suggests that extremely cold temperatures and a lack of oxygen may put the body into a hibernation state as the heart rate slows and the body’s metabolism drops to minimal levels. But those experiences generally last only a few minutes, not the five hours that the teen endured on his oceanic flight.

If the boy’s story is confirmed, he joins a small group of flight stowaways who found some way to survive on low oxygen, low temperatures, and low air pressure under conditions that weren’t meant for human beings. “He’s a really lucky boy,” says Honigman.

30 Crazy Things You Didn’t Know About Sleep

A new parent will lose about 1055.6 hours of sleep in the first year of their child's life… that's almost 44 days

Sleepy’s mattress retailer is pretty pro-sleep. So to help educate a consumer base —and, you know, promote — the company came up with a list of 30 “insane” facts about it. They range from the awesome (gamers are more likely to be able to control their dreams) to depressing (a new parent will lose about 1055.6 hours of sleep in the first year of their child’s life… that’s almost 44 days.)

30 Insane Facts About Sleep

Explore more visuals like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.
 

The Best and Worst States for Infertility

Fertility report card scores states on insurance coverage for IVF, fertility specialists, and support groups.

If you’re struggling to get pregnant, the best states to live in are Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.

That’s according to a “fertility report card” from RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, which assessed each state based on whether they offer insurance coverage for in vitro fertilization (IVF), the number of fertility specialists in each state, and the prevalence of infertility support groups.

So what are the worst states for couples struggling to get pregnant? RESOLVE says it’s Alaska, New Hampshire, and Wyoming, which all were graded an “F.”

“For the second year in a row, we are working to highlight state-by-state disparities between access to support resources and fertility treatment, in an effort to motivate people to take action to improve their state’s fertility friendliness,” said Barbara Collura, President/CEO of RESOLVE. Insurance coverage is one of the biggest hurdles for IVF, with some states not providing insurance due to IVF not being a life or death issue, and for ethical reasons.

See a snapshot below, or view the full interactive here:

map of 2014 Fertility Scorecard  copy

Food

Kraft Recalls Hot Dogs That Are Actually Cheese Dogs

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Man Standing Next to Automobile Shaped Like a Hotdog Sickles Photo-Reporting Service—www.jupiterimages.com

Beware a wiener in cheese dog clothing

Call it a classic mix-up.

Kraft is recalling 96,000 pounds of Oscar Mayer Classic Wieners that are actually Classic Cheese Dogs in the wrong packaging, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Sunday.

The product labels are incorrect and don’t reflect ingredients like milk, which is an allergen for many people, according to a statement posted on the USDA website. The recall specifically applies to 16-oz packages of “Oscar Mayer Classic Wieners Made with Turkey & Chicken, Pork Added” and cases of ““Classic Cheese Dogs Made with Turkey & Chicken, Pork Added, and Pasteurized Cheese Product.”

The mix-up was discovered by a consumer who notified Kraft on April 18, and Kraft notified the FDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS.) Neither the company nor FSIS has received any reports of illnesses caused by the mistake.

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