HPA - Poisons experts issue warning about wild mushroom foraging

18 Sep 2012 01:18 PM

Wild food enthusiasts are being urged to take extra care when foraging for mushrooms because of the risk of picking toxic varieties, says the Health Protection Agency's poisons experts.

Dozens of people seek medical advice each year after eating toxic varieties of wild mushroom which they have picked themselves. Some varieties which grow wild in the United Kingdom are so poisonous that they can be fatal if eaten. Foragers should remember that the poisons in some of the most dangerous wild mushrooms are generally not destroyed by cooking.

Between January and the end of July this year, the Health Protection Agency commissioned National Poisons Information Service was consulted for advice on 100 cases. The NPIS is contacted by frontline medics who need expert assistance when dealing with poisonings.

Dr John Thompson, the Director of the NPIS unit in Cardiff, said: "The wild mushroom foraging season is underway which is why we need people to be aware of the potential dangers involved in this activity.

"While many mushrooms growing in the wild are tasty and safe to eat, it is not always easy to differentiate between toxic and non-toxic species - even for people with experience in foraging.

“The NPIS therefore advises that people should not eat mushrooms collected in the wild unless they are familiar with the various species that grow in the UK and are sure that the mushrooms they have collected are safe to eat."

In 2011 the NPIS saw 257 cases of poisoning linked to eating mushrooms. The numbers were slightly down on the 316 cases seen in 2010 when weather in late summer/early autumn led to a bumper crop of wild mushrooms.

Most cases of accidental eating of mushrooms are seen in children under ten and they do not usually result in severe symptoms. Enquiries about adults often occur after deliberate ingestion of mushrooms collected in the wild.

Dr John Cooper, director of the HPA's Centre for Radiation, Chemicals and Environmental Hazards, which commissions NPIS, said: "People heading out to gather wild food this autumn should be aware of the dangers. Correctly identifying the mushrooms that are safe to pick and eat is key in ensuring that foraging is good fun and does not become a danger to your health."

Notes for editors:

  1. The National Poisons Information Service (NPIS) is a clinical toxicology service for health care professionals working in the NHS. It is endorsed by the Department of Health (DH) and commissioned by the HPA. It provides expert evidence-based advice on all aspects of acute and chronic poisoning, supporting best practice in the diagnosis and management of patients who may have been accidentally or deliberately poisoned, whether by ingestion, injection, inhalation or skin or eye contact. Further information can be obtained from the National Poisons Information Service page.
  2. The Health Protection Agency commissions the four units of NPIS in Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Newcastle to provide information and support on the diagnosis and management of poisoning to health care professionals in the UK.
  3. Some useful guidance on wild food foraging can be found on the Food Standard Agency's website external link.

For media enquiries, NPIS staff are available for interview, contact the HPA's CRCE press office on 01235 822745 or 01235 822876.