Supermarkets Woolworths and Coles have announced an urgent recall of a popular pantry staple.
The retail giants have pulled 100g packs and 240g jars of Hoyts poppy seeds from stores nationwide.
The recall comes just days after NSW Health and Victorian health officials warned that consuming large amounts of poppy seeds as a drink – like poppy seed tea – could lead to serious illnesses.
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Authorities have confirmed that at least 19 people have presented to emergency departments at hospitals across Australia after consuming home-brewed poppy seed tea.
There was a single case of cardiac arrest and two cases are in intensive care.
Food Standards Australia has confirmed Tuesday’s recall was due to the possible presence of a chemical (thebaine) resulting from unsafe poppy seeds entering the food supply.
Australians have been urged to remove all poppy seed packets from their homes.
Food safety hazard
“Foods that contain thebaine can cause illness if eaten,” she advised.
“Some people who have consumed large amounts of poppy seeds have developed severe poisoning shortly after ingestion.
“Consumers should not eat these products and should return to point of purchase for a full refund and safe disposal.
“Any consumer who is concerned about their health should seek medical advice.”
Late on Tuesday, Food Standards Australia announced that Gaganis Bros Imported Food Wholesalers Pty Ltd – along with other companies responsible for their brands and products – are also recalling their poppy seed products.
Gaganis products are available at independent grocery retailers, online and direct from Gaganis in SA. The recalled purchases have best before dates of September 1, 2023 through November 8, 2023, July 2024 and October 2024 inclusive.
Symptoms of poppy poisoning include seizures, severe muscle pain and spasms, convulsions, stiffness or abnormal movements, and acute kidney injury.
“Preliminary research suggests that high levels of a naturally occurring chemical in the raw poppy seeds could be a factor that needs to be well cooked to be destroyed,” advises NSW Health.
“The investigation is ongoing and there have been no cases of poisoning in people who have eaten poppy seeds as part of a baked food.”
In January, US authorities reported that poppy seed tea was becoming increasingly popular – with dangerous consequences.
Authorities warn that when large quantities of poppy seeds are brewed under certain conditions, the drink can induce a narcotic, possibly hallucinogenic high.
“Some batches of commercially available poppy seeds, when brewed into a concentrated form such as tea, have resulted in serious cases of toxicity,” the Victorian Department of Health said.
“Some affected patients have reported that the poppy seed tea consumed was an unusual dark brown color and had a bitter taste.”
The NSW Poisons Information Centre’s Medical Director, Associate Professor Darren Roberts, said consuming large amounts of this chemical in poppy seeds can be dangerous.
“We urge anyone who has consumed large amounts of poppy seeds, such as as a drink, and is experiencing unusual and serious symptoms to seek immediate medical attention by going to the nearest emergency department. Call Triple Zero for emergency assistance,” he said.
What to do if you suspect poisoning?
The Department of Health in Victoria has shared the following recommendations for the public.
- You cannot tell which poppy seeds are high in thebaine by looking at the seeds.
- Poppy tea drinkers should be aware of the significant risk of consumption and note that an unusual dark brown color and bitter taste in the rinse/tea after brewing may indicate unusual toxicity.
- Consult a doctor immediately if you experience any toxic effects after consuming poppy seeds.
- Call Triple Zero (000) for emergency assistance
- Go to the nearest emergency room
- Call the Victorian Poisons Information Center (13 11 26)
- If you or someone you know needs help with alcohol or drug use, call DirectLine on 1800 888 236 or visit directline.org.au for information and support on accessing treatment
More information on the Coles and Woolworths recall can be found here. More details on Gaganis’ recall can be found here.
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