Editorial Comment: Be wary of mushroom poisoning

DRIVING along major highways in Zimbabwe, one encounters a number of roadside vendors selling mushroom to passing motorists.

A famed delicacy, mushroom is also very dangerous as it needs a discerning eye to distinguish poisonous species from edible ones, and even the experienced eye may be duped because at times the environment can turn edible mushroom into toxic varieties.

This, and many other reasons, is why wild mushrooms account for a large number of food poisoning fatalities the world over, a development related to the morphology of fungi that makes it almost impossible to distinguish between edible and toxic species.

In such tragedies wild species are involved which is why people are strongly encouraged to desist from picking wild mushrooms, or buying from roadside vendors.

It is always safer to get one’s supply from supermarkets supplied by registered growers, because consumption of wild mushrooms is a serious gamble that even experienced pickers have failed to win on several occasions.

If one is really keen on mushrooms, one should at least stick to the variety one knows, but even this has its own dangers as mycologists have found that toxicity varies on a spatial scale.

An edible variety in one setting may be poisonous in another due to ecological peculiarities, a case in point being the presence of Eucalyptus trees that are believed to increase the level of toxins.

Industrial pollutants like heavy metals and radiation also concentrate toxins in known edible species.

Having said that we would like to reiterate the advice given by food scientists namely: Desisting from consumption of suspicious species, having only informed adults gather mushrooms and sticking to varieties one can positively identify in one’s locality.

People are also encouraged to thoroughly cook the mushroom before consumption, and to take only small potions of unknown varieties — not more than half of a mushroom at one sitting.

It is, however, important to note that grave symptoms may not appear for days, and are only expressed after vital organs are already damaged.

We thus urge people to seek treatment as soon as they experience any of the following symptoms after taking mushrooms: Lethargy, headache, dizziness, cold sweats, vomiting, acute abdominal pains, jaundice and severe diarrhoea.

Year after year, during the rainy season precious lives have been lost to mushroom poisoning, which is why we urge people to buy from registered growers; or where these can not be found to stick only to known wild varieties.

In all this we must always remember that, where mushrooms are concerned variety is not the spice but the bane of life, and just like with the HIV and Aids pandemic, abstinence is the key, unless one sticks to a variety one knows.

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