Summer  |  Look alikes  |  Gasoline and fuels

Corn Oil? Torch Fuel? Apple Juice? A Fatal Mistake

The Bottom Line

Torch fuel can look like apple juice. Making that mistake has cost people their lives.

The Full Story

An 84-year-old woman died after a family member poured torch fuel into a glass. She drank it, thinking it was apple juice. An eight-year-old girl has permanent lung damage after making the same mistake. Several other people also drank torch fuel, mistaking it for juice or another drink.

A look at the photos tells much of the story. These products look alike in the bottle. The liquid is the same color, the bottles are of similar heights, and the caps look alike. And when poured out of their bottles, it's impossible to tell the difference.

Torch fuel, sometimes called torch oil, is poured into many varieties of "tiki torches" or "patio torches" used for outdoor lighting in warm weather. Many merchants sell them in bamboo or metal. The "torch" or lantern portion sits on top of a long pole that is usually put into the ground or a bucket of sand. The torch fuel may contain an insect repellant such as citronella or lemon grass.

If swallowed, torch fuel can easily slide down into the lungs instead of going into the stomach. This causes pneumonia and also prevents the lungs from absorbing oxygen. Even small amounts in the lungs can be life-threatening or fatal.

Don't make a fatal mistake!

  • Store poisons and food in different places.
  • Do NOT put poisons into food containers. Keep poisons in their original containers.
  • Put the child-resistant cap firmly back in place after using torch fuel or other products.
  • Read the label before eating, drinking, or taking medicine. Be sure it's the right thing BEFORE you put it into your mouth!

If you do make a mistake - with torch fuel or anything else - use the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool or call Poison Control right away at 1-800-222-1222. Around the clock, Poison Control will tell you exactly what to do.

Rose Ann Gould Soloway, RN, BSN, MSEd, DABAT emerita
Clinical Toxicologist

For More Information

Dangerous household hydrocarbons (The Poison Post®)


Jolliff HA, Fletcher E, Roberts KJ, Baker SD, McKenzie LB. Pediatric Hydrocarbon-Related Injuries in the United States: 2000-2009. Pediatrics. 2013;131;1139-1148; originally published online May 6, 2013; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2012-3913


Call 1-800-222-1222 or

HELP ME online

Prevention Tips

Read the label before using a product - every time. Store products in their original containers, out of sight and reach of children. Do NOT transfer products into food or beverage container.

This Really Happened

A 22-month-old girl tried to swallow some tiki torch fuel. It went into her lungs and she began to cough right away. In the emergency room, she had a lot of trouble breathing, her blood pressure was low, she had bloody froth in her mouth, and her eyes "rolled back into her head". An x-ray show that her right lung had extensive injury. She received emergency care and was transferred to another hospital.

When she got there, she had a cardiac arrest. Although resuscitation efforts continued for some time, the child died.