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Michigan's wild mushroom season brings culinary delights, but also food safety risks

Morel mushrooms (Midwest American Mycological Information)

It's wild mushroom season in Michigan, and foragers are out in droves gathering the tasty morsels by the bushel.

Wild mushrooms, like morels and chanterelles, help define the forests of Michigan and provide potential income streams for foragers, farmers, restaurateurs and food entrepreneurs.

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.

Michigan's Food Code requires those who sell mushroom species picked in the wild to either be certified as an approved mushroom identification expert, or to have each mushroom individually inspected and found safe by a certified mushroom expert.

"There are many varieties of edible mushrooms that grow in Michigan, but there are also toxic, poisonous varieties, so there is some risk involved," said Tim Slawinski, director, Food and Dairy Division at the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. "There are also many look-alike varieties for some of our favorite wild mushrooms, including morels. These 'look-alikes' can cause serious illness or death when eaten, so it's important to know how to properly identify mushrooms and to only buy mushrooms from someone who is a trained, certified mushroom identification expert."

MDARD recognizes a certification and training course offered by Midwest American Mycological Information. The course was developed by MAMI; the Institute for Sustainable Living, Art and Natural Design (ISLAND - now operating under the name, "CROSSHATCH"); and the Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA), with support from MDARD. MDARD does not receive any money from MAMI, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public charity, for conducting the training and certification. All funds support the training program and materials. Those who successfully complete the course offered by MAMI are certified by MDARD and the certification is valid for five years. Certified mushroom identification experts should be prepared to show their certification cards as proof of certification, upon request.

"The bottom line is: please enjoy hunting for and eating your favorite wild mushrooms, but make sure you know how to properly identify them," said Slawinski. "If you plan to sell your wild mushroom harvest, you must be a certified mushroom identification expert; and if you operate a store or restaurant and plan to purchase mushrooms for resale to your customers, they must be purchased from an approved source and individually inspected by a certified mushroom identification expert. Finally, if you're purchasing wild mushrooms, especially online through social media platforms, always ask for proof of certification before purchasing any mushrooms."

Foraging mushrooms on public lands (including Michigan's state parks and game areas) for personal consumption and enjoyment is allowed and encouraged. However, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources advises that selling wild mushrooms harvested from public lands is illegal. Foraging of wild mushrooms is allowed in national forests, but a Commercial Use Permit (available at each forest's field office) is required for any individual intending to sell the mushrooms. No mushroom picking (either commercial or for personal use) is allowed in national parks.

Check out the DNR's Mi-Morels map at michigan.gov/mimorels to explore locations where large prescribed burns were conducted last year, and where morels may be more likely to grow. The morel Morchella exhuberens often shows up the next spring where pine trees have burned. To learn more about other mushroom search tools and tips, including recipes, read this recent bulletin, "Showcasing the DNR: Mi-HUNTing for Michigan morel mushrooms."

Mushroom poisoning refers to harmful effects from ingestion of toxic substances present in some mushrooms, with symptoms ranging from slight gastrointestinal discomfort to death. Common symptoms associated with mushroom poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, weakness, lethargy and yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice). Mushroom poisoning is usually the result of ingestion of wild mushrooms after misidentification of a toxic mushroom as an edible species. The most common reason for this misidentification is close resemblance in terms of color and general morphology of some toxic mushroom species with edible species.

If you suspect mushroom poisoning, seek immediate medical assistance, and call the Michigan Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

For information about mushroom identification training and certification, including upcoming courses, or to view a list of certified mushroom identification experts in Michigan, please visit MAMI's website at www.midwestmycology.org. To report potentially illegal sales of wild-foraged mushrooms, contact MDARD at 800-292-3939 or send an e-mail to mda-info@michigan.gov. You may also file a food safety complaint online through the MDARD online complaint form.