Date: May 07 2024

Contact: Jon Ebelt, Communications Director, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936, (406) 461-3757

DPHHS Urges Public to Use Caution When Consuming Morel Mushrooms

Improper identification, storage, and preparation of morels may lead to illness, death

Spring in Montana is a popular time to forage for morel mushrooms, a type of mushroom that is often considered a delicacy by restaurants and the public. However, morels can cause human illness if the proper identification, storage, and preparation steps are not taken.

An outbreak of gastrointestinal (GI) illness occurred in Montana in the spring of 2023, when 51 people got sick after eating raw or only partially cooked morels at a restaurant.

Three hospitalizations and two deaths were associated with this outbreak. Those who became ill experienced symptoms including diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain. People became sick shortly after consuming the morels, typically within one hour after the restaurant meal.

While outbreaks and illnesses linked to the consumption of morels may seem rare, it is possible they occur more frequently than public health professionals or medical providers realize because symptoms may not be severe enough to cause individuals to seek care.

Furthermore, a lack of awareness about the potential for morels to cause GI illness may also contribute to instances being underreported. The consumption of morels, whether prepared raw or cooked to varying degrees, has been linked to other GI outbreaks in the past.

State public health officials want to remind Montanans of a few safety tips they should utilize if they choose to forage for, buy, or consume morel mushrooms:

  • Make sure the mushrooms you plan to consume are true morels. If you are not an expert in identifying morels, consult someone who is.
  • Choose morels that are dry and firm. Avoid those that are bruised or slimy.
  • Practice safe storage methods. Store morels in breathable packaging such as a paper bag at a temperature of 40° F or below. Avoid using plastic bags for storage, because plastic bags cause the mushrooms to “sweat,” which promotes growth of bacteria and molds.
  • Cook morels thoroughly before eating. Cooking likely reduces toxin levels present in the mushrooms. Consuming raw or partially cooked morels may lead to varying degrees of GI illness, or even death.

If you get sick after eating morel mushrooms, contact your healthcare provider immediately and/or call the Poison Control Hotline at 1-800-222-1222. Healthcare providers should report any suspected morel mushroom or other poisonings to their local or tribal health department.

For more information, DPHHS has created a new web page on morel mushrooms.