Update: Montana Morel Deaths
I earlier reported a mass mushroom poisoning which sickened 51 people and resulted in 3 hospitalizations and 2 deaths. The Montana Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), working with FDA, has now issued its final case report. The culprit: consumption of uncooked or undercooked (including marinated) Morchella sextelata.
All of the illnesses resulted from consumption of mushroom dishes in a single restaurant during a 3-week period. The severity of symptoms correlated with the amount of mushrooms consumed.
MDHHS and the FDA were able to eliminate other probable causes.
- People who ate at the restaurant but didn’t consume Morchella (morels) did not become sick.
- The agencies also screened mushroom samples from the restaurant for pesticides, heavy metals, bacterial toxins, and pathogens. No significant findings were identified.
- The agencies traced Morchella from the same importer that were served by other restaurants. Those restaurants cooked the mushrooms properly before serving, without reports of illness.  .
- All Morchella contain toxins and should be cooked thoroughly before consuming. Indeed, cook all mushrooms before eating; some other mushrooms contain toxins that are destroyed only by heating (and not by marinating or drying). Once such toxin is agaritine, a potent carcinogen found in the common button mushroom, Agaricus bisporus. Toth, “Hepatocarcinogenesis by hydrazine mycotoxins of edible mushrooms”, Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, 5:2-3, 193-202, (1979) DOI: 10.1080/15287397909529744.
- Be certain of the identity of each mushroom that you consume even if store-bought.
- Check our FAQs on Eating Wild Mushrooms.
2. Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, Final Summary of the Foodborne Outbreak Linked to Morel Mushrooms. July 19, 2023. https://www.healthygallatin.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/Report_FinalSummary_FBIOutbreak_7.19.2023-Final.pdf
3. Morchella sextelata occurs in western North America as a “black” “burn morel”. It is macroscopically indistinguishable from the other members of the Morchella eximia group (M. eximia, M. exuberans, M. septimelata). Michael Beug, et al., Ascomycete Fungi of North America 194 (Univ. of Texas Press 2014); Michael Beug, Mushrooms of Cascadia 44 (2021); Trudell, Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest 334 (Timber Press rev. ed. 2022).. Trudell, Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest 334 (Timber Press rev. ed. 2022); Beug, Mushrooms of Cascadia 44 (2021); Beug, et al., Ascomycete Fungi of North America 194 (Univ. of Texas Press 2014).
4. U.S. Food & Drug Administration, “Investigation of Illnesses: Morel Mushrooms” (updated July 19, 2023) https://www.fda.gov/food/outbreaks-foodborne-illness/investigation-illnesses-morel-mushrooms-may-2023