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If I eat an entire pack of mince pies, will I be over the drink drive limit?

Published: December 7, 2017
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With supermarkets hitting headlines for demanding shoppers prove they are over the age of 18 to sample them, and with packaging boasting of tie-ups with luxury alcohol brands, you might have wondered if it is safe to drive after eating a mince pie.

Probably you dismissed the notion, got into the spirit of things and then scarfed down a couple of the sweet treats.

But what if you washed them down with a pint or a glass of wine? What if you ate loads of them? What if you ate loads and LOADS of them?

I set out to test how boozy supermarket mince pies actually are and whether I could eat enough to put me over the drink-drive limit.

Test conditions

For the purposes of the test, I used Tesco mince pies, sampling the Tesco Finest All Butter Pastry Deep Filled Mince Pies with Courvoisier VS Cognac.

The packaging doesn’t specify an alcoholic content level (a bad sign for the premise of this feature), but the list of ingredients shows that 1.5 per cent of the mincemeat mix is made up of Cognac.

To test my blood-alcohol levels I used an Alcosense Pro Breathalyser, a commercially available breath testing device that contains the same fuel cell sensor used in police breathalysers.

Different limits

Drink-drive limits in the UK vary and for the purposes of this test I set the breathalyser to match the Scottish limit of 22 Micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath - as it’s the lowest in the UK. The limit in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is 35 Micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath.

I took a reading before starting the test as a starting point and registered less than 0.09, low or zero alcohol. The pies were eaten approximately 15 minutes apart, with about two to three minutes in between finishing each pie and the subsequent breath test.

Below follows a pie-by-pie account of my experiment:

Pie 1

How I feel: Brilliant! I love mince pies.
Reading: Less than 0.09 mg/l. Low or zero alcohol.

Pie 2

How I feel: Pretty festive. Conscious of the jealous looks from colleagues.
Reading: Less than 0.09 mg/l. Low or zero alcohol.

Pie 3

How I feel: Like I should have brought my toothbrush to work.
Reading: Less than 0.09 mg/l. Low or zero alcohol.

Pie 4

How I'm feeling: Slightly ill now. It’s not even lunch time and I’m on to my fourth mince pie.
Reading: Less than 0.09 mg/l. Low or zero alcohol.

Pie 5

How I'm feeling: Suddenly I feel like I can’t eat another pie. I resort to taking the top off  number five and eating the filling with a spoon. At last though, a change.
Reading: 0.09 mg/l on the nose, estimate one hour and 50 minutes until I am completely sober.

Pie 6

How I'm feeling: Like my 19-year-old self would be disgusted at my lack of commitment, but, again, I’m tackling pie six with a spoon. 
Reading: 0.13 mg/l of breath. I’m advised I’ll be completely sober in two hours and 39 minutes.

The results: how many mince pies would it take you to fail a breathalyser test?

Loads. Feeling slightly ill I decided that one full box of mince pies in a morning was enough for science and, even set to the Scottish limit, eating a full box of supermarket mince pies didn't send me over the drink drive limit.

Interestingly, it did appear to have some effect though. It took five pies before the breathalyser registered more than 0.09 mg/l, but by pie six the reading had jumped to 0.13 mg/l. It’s definitely not an exact science, but by that measure two boxes could possibly see you on the wrong side of the law in Scotland.

But I doubt it. Within half an hour of finishing pie six my reading had dropped back down to 0.09 mg/l on the nose and after another 30 minutes I was back to reading "low or zero".

So if you’re pairing two or three mince pies with an alcoholic drink, it's conceivable that the pies might nudge your alcohol levels slightly higher than you would otherwise anticipate.

But if someone down the pub tells you that they failed a police breathalyser test and all they had consumed was a few mince pies - they were either really, really full of pie, or they are full of something else.

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