State acts to protect public from poisonous mushrooms; certification required in 2022

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A new law in New Hampshire will require people who make money from wild mushrooms to become certified under a licensing program designed to decrease poisonings.

Gov. Chris Sununu signed House Bill 345 into law this past week. It goes into effect on July 1, 2022. The law allows for fines of up to $1,000 for mushroom sellers per incident. It covers individuals who forage and sell wild mushrooms as well as distributors, retailers and restaurants that sell them.

The bill also requires the state’s Department of Health and Human Services to develop a list of approved mushrooms for distribution. The department is also tasked with producing the educational curriculum for license applicants.

Many wild mushrooms are poisonous and look very similar to edible mushrooms. Mushroom poisoning can range from an upset stomach to death. Common symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, weakness, lethargy, and jaundice. Illness and death can come on quickly in some instances, especially in children. Some patients develop liver failure and require transplants.

New Hampshire State Rep. Peter Bixby, D-Dover, was one of the sponsors of the bill. He told the Seacoast Current that up until now there was no way to ensure that people who harvest and sell mushrooms “knew what they were doing.”

The licensing process will cost $75 per person and will include fulfilling educational requirements and passing examinations approved by state officials.

New Hampshire is not the only state concerned about the sale of wild mushrooms.

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Poisonous mushroom Amanita muscaria var. guessowii

Michigan requires mushroom hunters who intend to sell their finds to have all mushrooms inspected by a certified mushroom expert to help reduce food poisoning incidents. Certification is available through the Midwest American Mycological Information. Certifications must be renewed every five years.

“Wild mushrooms, like morels and chanterelles, help define the forests of Michigan and provide potential income streams for foragers, farmers, restaurateurs, and food entrepreneurs,” said Tim Slawinski, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Food and Dairy Division director.

“However, if improperly identified, mushrooms can pose serious health risks. If you are purchasing wild mushrooms, you should only purchase them from a certified mushroom identification expert, as required by Michigan’s Food Code, to assure they are safe and edible.”

As with the New Hampshire law, Michigan’s law applies to retailers, online sellers, and restaurants that sell wild-foraged mushrooms. The certified experts can be on staff at the businesses or by third-party individuals.

Slawinski urged consumers to exercise extreme caution when buying wild mushrooms online, especially on social media sites.

For information about mushroom identification experts in Michigan or how to become certified, visit the Midwest American Mycological Information website.

Illegal sales of wild-foraged mushrooms can be reported to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development at 800-292-3939.

Mushroom concerns in other states
In 2018 the California Department of Health reported that a bloom of poisonous mushrooms commonly referred to as “destroying angel” resulted in high harvest rates and illnesses. 

There were 14 poisonings that resulted in patients being admitted to hospitals. Three of the patients had to have liver transplants. It is unknown how many people total were poisoned by the wild mushrooms because people with milder symptoms often do not seek medical attention.

The California department officials said the most serious illnesses and deaths have been linked primarily to Amanita phalloides, which are also known as the “death cap,” and Amanita ocreata, known as “destroying angel.”

In 2017 Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a bill that would have eliminated a training requirement for people who sell wild mushrooms to food establishments.

“With the increased popularity of local foods over the past several years, there has been a significant increase in the demand for wild mushrooms by food establishments, wholesalers, and processors,” Snyder said in his 2017 veto letter. “The requirement for wild mushroom pickers to be experts has been in the FDA Food Code which Michigan adopts by reference since 2000.

Michigan adopted a formal certification course in 2015 to assure that people picking wild mushrooms to sell to food businesses could identify safe vs. toxic mushroom varieties. The certification is good for five years.

In 2016 several Los Angeles children were sickened after sampling a toxic mushroom growing in a community garden at their neighborhood school. At least two of them, including a 10-year-old boy, were taken to a local hospital for treatment. The garden was closed.

The culprit was identified as Amanita pantherina, or Panther cap mushroom, which a worker reportedly gave the children to try Sept. 21 while guiding them through the garden at Micheltorena Elementary School in the Silver Lake neighborhood.

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