Why you could fail a breathalyser test after eating durian

Shocking but true! Eating durians could very well land you in hot soup with the authorities as you can fail a breathalyser test. That’s exactly what happened to a driver in China who was pulled over by police in April this year for suspected drunk driving.

After failing a breathalyser test, the shocked man revealed that the only thing he had consumed was durian and not alcohol.

Durian is known as the King of Fruits and can be widely found in South East Asia. It is infamous for its pungent smell, something that westerners find a real turn-off, but for most Malaysians, once you’ve tasted it’s rich, sweet and flavourful flesh, it’s pretty hard to resist.

The fruit has been a craze in China leading to an import deal with Malaysia a couple of years back.

The driver who was pulled over was adamant about his claim although the police were skeptical. This however lead to the officer, Yu Pengxiang, insisting a blood test be done since the man had failed the breathalyser test.

To his surprise, the driver’s blood test proved his innocence despite China’s strict 0.02% (20 milligrams per 100 ml) blood alcohol limit. In the US, the limit is 0.08% for those 21 years old and above.

Puzzled, the officer administered a breathalyser test on himself – fortunately, on camera – to prove if eating durians really did raise blood alcohol levels. As expected, he tested positive with a reading of 0.36.

So, what’s going on? Can eating durian make you drunk? No. As it turns out, there are a lot of things we regularly consume that can lead to the false positive reading on a breathalyser test.

These are foods that contain trace alcohol amounts – hot cross buns and white bread (thanks to the fermenting yeast), pecans, macadamias, ripe fruit, protein bars, mouth wash, and cough syrup.

In this case, the methyl group from the compound ethyl (2S)-2-methylbutanoate, was the likely culprit that landed this motorist in hot water with the authorities.

However, don’t be hopeful that you can use the excuse of eating durian when you next get stopped on suspicion of drunk driving because this would only make blood tests part of the mandatory screening process. In the meantime, stay safe on the road.

This article first appeared in hellodoktor.com and was reviewed by Dr Duyen Le. The Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.