Can you accidently fail a workplace drug or alcohol test?

Can you fail drug or alcohol testing from something you have inadvertently eaten or had to drink?

Can you accidently fail a workplace drug test because of something you’ve eaten? Can you fail an alcohol test even though you believe you haven’t consumed any alcohol?

From the US comes a true story about a worker, who we’ll call Alex, who had a penchant for starting the day with a nutritious salad topped with poppy seeds. Little did Alex know that this seemingly innocent – and healthy – breakfast choice would turn a drug test into an issue.

After a routine, random workplace drug test, Alex was summoned to the HR Office to explain why he had provided a positive result for opiates. Perplexed and genuinely baffled, Alex recounted the routine of the past few days, trying to pinpoint any illicit substances that might have triggered the result. As the interrogation unfolded, a moment of revelation struck – the poppy seeds in the morning salad.

It’s not just drug testing that you can accidently fail. Several years ago, a Victorian man – who had an alcohol interlock fitted to his car – initially failed to get back his licence after the specified time because on one occasion the interlock had detected alcohol on his breath.

In court, the man blamed an ice cream he had eaten immediately before blowing into the interlock. The enterprising Magistrate took a break from proceedings while the ‘offending’ ice cream was purchased and bought to court, along with a police breathalyser. The man was tested and blew 0.0. He then ate the ice cream and was retested and blew 0.018.

Yes, you can accidently fail a drug or alcohol test, however…

As the two stories above show, you can accidently fail a workplace drug or alcohol test. However, before you store this information up your sleeve for a handy excuse in the event of a failed test, it’s worth pointing out that this is relatively rare.

For example, while poppy seeds do contain opioids, it’s certainly not enough to make you high. And generally it’s not enough to make you fail a drug test, unless you had very recently eaten them. Subsequent testing and analysis are likely to not result in a positive test for opioids.

Here are some other things to consider about accidently failing a drug or alcohol test:

  • When it comes to failing a drug test, the most common way is by inadvertently ingesting cookies that have been laced with cannabis. This will, of course, make you high. You won’t be safe to work, drive or undertake other safety-focused duties and can fail drug testing.
  • Additionally, seemingly harmless drinks like coca tea, popular in South America, can pose a risk due to its association with the coca plant, the source of cocaine.
  • There are several ways that you can accidently fail alcohol testing by ingesting food or drink. This is particularly possible if you eat sauces, gravies, casseroles, baked goods, trifles and mousses that contain alcohol.
  • Surprisingly, certain beverages presumed to be alcohol-free, such as some kombuchas, energy drinks and ‘alcohol-free’ beers and wines, may contain traces of alcohol. Even seemingly mundane items like mouthwash, if alcohol-based, have been known to result in alcohol testing failures.
  • Further complicating matters are medications – both alcohol and drugs – that could lead to testing failures. Cough syrups and cough drops, for instance, might contain alcohol, while potent pain relievers like fentanyl and oxycontin contain opiates. Following prescribed medication guidelines generally poses no issue, but misuse of prescribed and over-the-counter medications may result in testing discrepancies.
  • In unusual circumstances, being in the proximity of someone using drugs might lead to testing failures, although this is highly unlikely and typically occurs only in extreme situations. More common is the risk of unintentional test failures after exposure to environments where illicit drugs are being manufactured.

As we pointed out, failing a drug or alcohol test accidently by inadvertently eating or drinking something is rare. The more common way of ‘accidently’ failing a test is by going to work the day after a big night out, when you are still over the alcohol limit or have drugs in your system.

Lessons for the workplace

For those owners or managers of workplaces where safety is paramount, there are some valuable lessons in this article:

  1. Firstly, and most importantly, have a comprehensive drugs and alcohol policy in place that is regularly reviewed.
  2. Avoid the use of inexpensive and unreliable equipment or kits for drug and alcohol testing within your workplace.
  3. Ensure that confirmation tests are analysed by an independent laboratory to establish accuracy and reliability.
  4. Exercise caution when faced with an employee providing a positive drug and alcohol test along with an accompanying excuse. While the likelihood of the excuse being valid is minimal, it shouldn’t be summarily dismissed.
  5. Prioritise safety by promptly removing an individual who has provided a positive drug and alcohol test from the workplace. This precautionary measure is solely for safety purposes and should not be misconstrued as an indication of blame.
  6. Refrain from making any decisions regarding consequences until confirmation testing has been conducted.


Can you fail drug or alcohol testing from something you have inadvertently eaten or had to drink?

By Michael

Michael is the founder of Integrity Sampling and is responsible for overseeing all national operations. He is based at Integrity Sampling's head office in Melbourne and is also responsible for the co-ordination of drug and alcohol testing within Victoria, assisting in the implementation of drug and alcohol (fit for work) policies and the presentation of drug and alcohol education and awareness programs. You can connect with Michael Wheeldon on LinkedIn

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