Mushrooms: confusion can be life-threatening
Poisonings after eating privately collected mushrooms occur frequently. Every year, an average of ten cases of mushroom poisoning are reported to the BfR by medical doctors, and the poison centres of the Federal States answer more than 3,000 enquiries about mushrooms per year. "Very poisonous mushrooms are growing in Germany that resemble edible specimens. This can be dangerous for collectors with limited experience," says Dr Herbert Desel, head of the unit 'Exposure Assessment of Hazardous Products' at BfR. Popular domestic edible mushrooms are, for example, the field mushroom (Agaricus campestris) and edible Russula species. Often collectors confuse edible mushrooms with the highly toxic death cap (Amanita phalloides). The toxins contained in death cap cause liver failure, even eating small amounts can be fatal. Children and elderly people are particularly at risk. Even small amounts of poisonous mushrooms can cause serious damage to their health. The symptoms of mushroom poisoning are manifold. Often - but not with every mushroom species - a feeling of malaise is developing in the beginning, combined with stomach pain, nausea and vomiting.
The health risk from ingesting poisonous or incompatible mushrooms that were privately collected is relatively high - repeatedly poisonous mushrooms are mistaken for eatable ones. The death cap is the most poisonous mushroom in Germany: even a fraction of a typical mushroom meal can lead to death of adults and children. Around five per cent of all mushroom poisonings are due to the consumption of death cap, which grow from July to October, mainly in deciduous forests, but also in parks. The BfR estimates that death cap causes at least 80 percent of all fatal mushroom poisonings in Germany.
If you feel unwell after eating a mushroom, you should always seek medical advice or consult a poison centre.
Directory of poisons centres in Germany:
Under no circumstances should therapy be carried out without a medical doctor's advice: Even supposedly harmless measures such as inducing vomiting can have serious health consequences if, for example, vomit gets into the deep respiratory tract. Milk can facilitate the absorption of poisons.
Important advices for the recognition and medical treatment of mushroom poisoning:
- To protect yourself from mushroom poisoning, you shall only collect mushrooms and prepare mushroom meals if you are absolutely sure you have identified all mushrooms as eatable ones.
- Although mushroom apps can support the recognition, you shall never rely solely on the identification via app.
- The mushrooms must be fresh when prepared.
- Raw edible mushrooms enjoyed as a salad often cause intolerance symptoms. Therefore, cook every mushroom meal for at least 15 minutes.
- Mushroom dishes can be reheated a second time after being stored in the refrigerator for a short time.
- In many towns and regions there are advice centres or individual experts with extensive and proven knowledge of mushroom identification. Always ask a mushroom advisory service if you are unsure whether the mushrooms are poisonous or edible. Information on mushroom experts who can assist with mushroom identification in cases of poisoning or suspected poisoning can be found on the website of the German Society for Mycology (see below). The poison centres of the Federal States also provide appropriate contacts.
- If poisoning occurs, mushroom residues from cleaning the mushrooms or from the meal - possibly also vomitus - often provide valuable clues for mushroom identification (including spore analysis).
- Valuable information on mushrooms and poisoning risks is offered in an article by "Deutsches Ärzteblatt" and on the website of the German Society for Mycology:
About the BfR
The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. The BfR advises the Federal Government and the Federal States ("Laender") on questions of food, chemicals and product safety. The BfR conducts its independent research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.