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Warnings issued on morel mushroom consumption as foraging season arrives

Spring is a popular time for foragers to go hunting for vitamin D-rich morel mushrooms, but state authorities are urging caution regarding the fungi.
A woman sniffs a mushroom while out in the wild foraging.
Posted at 2:21 PM, May 09, 2024

State authorities have issued a warning to foragers and newbies out hunting for morel mushrooms as the fungi come into season. While the fungi are generally safe to consume, experts warn they have to be prepared properly or they could cause some serious illness.

In one notice, Montana officials said that spring in that state is a popular time for people to forage for morel mushrooms. The state's Department of Public Health and Human Services saidmorels can cause illness if they aren't properly prepared, stored and identified.

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Considered a delicacy by some, the fungi caused an outbreak of illness in Bozeman, Montana last year when 51 people became sick after eating raw or partially cooked morel mushrooms at a restaurant. Illness can cause gastrointestinal problems including nausea, diarrhea and stomach pain. The people sickened in the Montana outbreak reported feeling symptoms within an hour or so after consuming their meals.

A morel mushroom spotted during a mushroom hunt and cooking class is seen in West Bend, Wis.

According to the CDC, one of the restaurant patrons was hospitalized and later died. A second patron died hours after being discharged from a hospital emergency room. The CDC said both patients experienced symptoms within 60 minutes of their meal. Investigators determined that patrons of the restaurant had consumed a special sushi roll that contained salmon and morel mushrooms.

The CDC says consumption of raw morelswas more associated with illness than consumption of those mushrooms that were partially cooked.

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State health officials say to be very sure the mushrooms you plan to cook or consume are true morels. They should be dry and firm when raw. Avoid any that are bruised or slimy. They should be stored in breathable packaging like a paper bag and temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. They should not be stored in plastic bags or containers as this may cause sweating and the promotion of bacteria and mold growth.

Morels should always be cooked thoroughly before consumption. The cooking process likely reduces toxin levels in the mushrooms. Consuming raw or partially cooked morels can lead to serious illness or even death in some cases.

According to Oklahoma Fungi, a key time to forage for morel mushrooms is in the early spring from around March to May in North America. It is important to always try to work with an experienced forager or mycologist to identify safe fungi.