Australians warned about poisoning risks from wild mushrooms

Australians warned about poisoning risks from wild mushrooms

by Sue Jones
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The Food Safety Information Council has warned people in Australia not to pick wild mushrooms because of the risk of poisoning.

The group said deathcap (Amanita phalloides) mushrooms are difficult to distinguish from some other wild varieties and advised people to only eat mushrooms bought from a supermarket, greengrocer or other reputable source.

People from other countries should also be cautious as the mushrooms can look like edible types that grow in their own countries.

Weather impact
Cathy Moir, council chair, said that foraging for wild food is becoming popular but gathering wild mushrooms can be life threatening.

“Deathcap mushrooms can appear any time of year but are usually more common during autumn, a week or two after good rains. However, during a wet summer like this one, fruiting has occurred much earlier with reports of them in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and Adelaide Hills region since Christmas,” she said.

“They have been found in the Canberra region, in and around Melbourne, in Tasmania and in the Adelaide region. They are not native to Australia and are found near oak, hazel or chestnut trees. The similar native marbled deathcap mushrooms have been found in Western Australia in eucalypt forest, although they may not be as toxic. While no cases have been reported in other states it is possible that they also grow there.”

In November 2021 in the ACT, three people went to emergency departments after ingesting wild mushrooms. The state has seen four deaths associated with Death Cap mushrooms since 2002.

Toxin in deathcap mushrooms is not destroyed by peeling, cooking or drying. Symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps and usually appear six to 24 hours after eating. They may ease for two to three days before a terminal phase of three to four days. Without early medical intervention people may go into a coma and die after two or three weeks of liver and kidney failure.

Burden for children
Most deaths from mushroom poisoning in Australia result from deathcap mushrooms. However, there are other wild mushrooms that have caused fatalities or can make people ill.

These include various Cortinarius (webcap) and Galerina species, the ghost mushroom (often mistaken for oyster mushrooms), and the yellow stainer which resembles a field mushroom and is the most commonly ingested poisonous mushroom in Victoria and New South Wales (NSW).

“The NSW Poisons Information Centre, which receives enquiries from NSW, the ACT and Tasmania as well as after-hours enquiries for all of Australia, received 549 calls during 2020 regarding exposures to mushrooms with another 133 recalls about these cases. 23 percent of calls were intentional recreational or foraging exposures in adults,” said Moir.

“More than a third of these calls were accidental exposure in children under 5 years, so remember that small children have a natural inclination to put things in their mouths so keep an eye on them when outdoors. Parents, schools and childcare workers should regularly check outdoor areas and gardens for mushrooms and remove them to reduce the risk of accidental poisoning. This will also protect your pets.”

This past year, South Australians were warned about picking mushrooms. From January to March 2021, the poisons center handled 14 mushroom related cases with four referred to hospitals. There were 111 incidents in 2020 with 12 calls referred to hospital.

“Each year, around two-thirds of calls made to the hotline about mushroom poisonings involve children less than 5 years of age. In 2020 there were 20 percent more calls made about mushroom exposure to the Poisons Information Centre than the previous year, which may be attributed to more people being active outside when COVID-19 restrictions were in place,” said Dr. David Simon.

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