With the beginning of autumn and the arrival of the first rains, the mushroom picking season begins. And with it the reports of poisonings, by local health authorities, from South to North throughout Italy: 9 cases in Catania last weekend, caused by Chlorophyllum molybdites, the so-called ‘false drumstick’, while already significant numbers are recorded at the Maugeri poison control center in Pavia, to name a few. It is no coincidence that in the September-October-November quarter 90% of cases of mushroom poisoning occur, which bring around 10 thousand Italians to the emergency room each year, including mild and more serious cases, with symptoms ranging from gastrointestinal problems to neurological complications, up to death. What precautions should be taken to avoid risks? And what are the ‘warning’ symptoms of intoxication?
The first rule to adopt in case of doubt about the varieties collected is to separate the suspect mushrooms from the edible ones, so that the spores of the former do not contaminate the other mushrooms. Many ‘good’ species, unfortunately, have ‘bad’ lookalikes that can confuse the less experienced collector. And again: never collect mushrooms when they are too small or still closed. As well as being prohibited by law, it is the best way to come across inedible species. In any case, mushrooms must be cooked for at least 30-45 minutes which in most cases neutralizes a good part of the toxins. But to always be sure of what you take home, the golden rule is to have the mushrooms checked by the inspectors of the Micrological Recognition Service active in the Italian Local Health Authorities: the service is free and an exhaustive list of the inspectorates is available in website of the Ministry of Health.
Therefore, maximum attention to deadly species: the phalloid amanita, for example, contains a powerful substance capable of irreversibly damaging the liver and kidneys; in the most serious situations the only possibility of survival is linked to a liver transplant. This mushroom is particularly insidious because it can easily be mistaken for other non-toxic mushrooms. Cooking it does not reduce the danger: the hepatotoxic toxins of the amanita phalloides resist high temperatures, and therefore cooking does not protect against intoxication. Only a mycologist is able to distinguish the different species, and often only through sophisticated analysis.
But how does mushroom poisoning manifest itself? In almost all cases the first symptoms are gastrointestinal such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, profuse diarrhea, tachycardia, confusion and hallucinations. The time interval between ingestion and the appearance of symptoms is variable and depends on the species; times exceeding 6-8 hours are particularly suspicious and alarming. In severe cases, damage to vital organs such as the liver and kidney can occur, putting life at risk.
In case of poisoning it is advisable to call the Poison Control Center, report in detail what happened and carefully follow the instructions given. Even children and pregnant women can consume mushrooms, as long as all the hygienic precautions common to most foods are adopted. Given the poor digestibility – experts advise – it is good practice not to exceed both in quantity and frequency.