News: Raw Morels Likely Behind Deadly Outbreak in Montana

Between March 28 and April 17, 2023, fifty people fell sick and two people died after eating at Dave’s Sushi in Bozeman, Montana. What each affected customer had in common was that they ate morel mushrooms served by staff at Dave’s Sushi.

Investigations carried out by the Gallatin City-County Health Department, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the US Food and Drug Administration, and the Montana Department of Public Health have concluded in a report released on July 19 that the cause of sickness was due to undercooked morel mushrooms.

“. . . According to documents provided by the restaurant, the morel mushrooms served during March and April 2023 were prepared raw or only lightly cooked, depending on the date of preparation.” (1)

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Those who ate more of the mushrooms reported higher levels of illness than those who consumed very few. Most became ill about 3 hours after ingesting the mushrooms and reported symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Three people were hospitalized and two people died out of the fifty or so people who ate the mushrooms.

DNA tests showed that the morels were true morels and not toxic lookalikes, and the investigation showed that six other restaurants serving morel mushrooms from the same supplier reported no illnesses.

The Gallatin City-County Health Department reports that the restaurant’s owners informed them that some of the morels were served lightly cooked after being marinated in a boiled sauce, while others were served raw.

“The toxins in morel mushrooms that may cause illness are not fully understood. However, it is known that using proper morel mushroom preparation techniques, including cooking, can help reduce toxicity and risk of illness,” according to the FDA. (2)

Fungi Magazine says this about morel mushrooms:

“You cannot eat raw morels. This applies even to dried morels. This is because morels contain toxins that can make you sick if you consume them raw. However, these toxins are destroyed when morels are cooked. Therefore, it is safe to eat cooked morels, but not raw morels. If you have eaten a raw morel, and you did not get sick, it is because the morel toxins are not always present in high enough quantities to cause illness. However, no guarantee eating raw morels will not make you sick, but there is a higher chance of getting stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. So, if you want to eat morels, cook them first. This will make them taste better and ensure you do not get sick from eating them. For expectant mothers, it is essential to avoid eating raw morels as they can pass on toxins to their developing babies. Pregnant women should take cooked morels in moderation.” (3)

All mycological societies and any experienced forager will agree – mushrooms, especially wild ones, should ALWAYS be cooked and NEVER eaten raw.

This begs the question of whether non-foraging chefs should be using wild ingredients without knowing anything about them. It’s up to restaurant owners and chefs to learn the basic information (like any forager would do) about the wild ingredients they’re using before serving a potentially deadly meal to the public.

Eating mushrooms can be very safe and enjoyable as long the mushrooms are well-researched and prepared in a safe and proper manner. If you’d like to know more about safely foraging and eating mushrooms, join your local mycological society.

For more Harvesting Nature news about wild mushrooms, click here.

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