Morel Mushrooms: Investigation Unveils Risks and FDA Guidelines After Food Poisoning Outbreak

by Ella

A recent food poisoning outbreak, originating from a Montana restaurant, has claimed two lives and left 51 individuals sickened, shedding light on the limited understanding of morel mushrooms and the potential hazards associated with preparing this sought-after delicacy.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted an extensive investigation following the outbreak linked to Dave’s Sushi in Bozeman during late March and April. The findings suggested that undercooked or raw morels were the likely cause, prompting the FDA to issue its inaugural guidelines on the proper preparation of morels.


“The toxins in morel mushrooms that may cause illness are not fully understood; however, using proper preparation procedures, such as cooking, can help to reduce toxin levels,” states the FDA guidance. Despite cooking reducing the risk, the FDA emphasizes that there is no guarantee of safety, even with thorough cooking steps.


Limited public health information and medical literature on morels, as stated by Jon Ebelt, spokesperson for Montana’s health department, underscores the gaps in knowledge surrounding this culinary ingredient. Surprisingly, samples from Dave’s Sushi revealed no specific toxins, pathogens, pesticides, or organic compounds in the morels.


Aaron Parker, the owner of Dave’s Sushi, emphasized the boutique nature of morels, with prices ranging from $40 to $80 per pound depending on the season. While many recipe books suggest sautéing morels to preserve their earthy flavor, Parker’s own investigation led him to believe that boiling the mushrooms for 10 to 30 minutes is the safest preparation method.


The FDA’s Food Code highlights the limited testing of the over 5,000 fleshy mushroom species in North America for toxicity. Of those tested, 15 are deadly, 60 are toxic whether raw or cooked, and at least 40 are poisonous when raw but safer when cooked.

While mushroom-caused food poisonings in restaurant settings are rare, the Montana outbreak, linked to morels, is among the first reported cases in the U.S. However, incidents have occurred sporadically abroad, such as a morel-related outbreak in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Spain in 2019 and a case in Vancouver, British Columbia, poisoning 77 consumers.

Before the recent guidelines, the FDA’s Food Code advised states that serving wild mushrooms must be approved by a regulatory authority. Montana and several other states permit restaurants to sell wild mushrooms from licensed sellers, according to a 2021 study. The study suggests a need for better communication and emphasizes the importance of a “guidance document” to navigate the varied regulations.

Heather Hallen-Adams, chair of the toxicology committee of the North American Mycological Association, pointed out the knowledge gap among chefs regarding the poisonous nature of raw morels. The lack of safety information reaching those who need it, including chefs at Dave’s Sushi, underscores the need for improved communication and potential labeling.

As the FDA issues its first guidelines on morel preparation and Montana’s health department plans to release morel safety guidelines in the upcoming spring, the incident prompts a call for increased awareness and education on the proper preparation of mushrooms, particularly morels, to ensure consumer safety.






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