A nationwide recall of poppy seeds has been announced following a spate of poisonings across the country.
Meanwhile, non-food grade poppy seeds containing large amounts of the controlled drug thebaine have been discovered in the food supply chain. Here is the situation as it is.
What has happened so far?
Over the weekend, Victorian health officials warned of the risks of brewing poppy tea after 19 people suffered toxic contamination.
At least 12 people in NSW have required medical attention after ingesting poppy seed products.
Two people in Western Australia suffered severe reactions after drinking poppy seed tea. Both have recovered.
Which poppy seed products have been recalled?
Food Standards Australia New Zealand has announced a recall of poppy seeds sold by five brands at Woolworths, Coles, IGA, online and other independent retailers.
- Eumarah Mohn
- Hoyt’s poppy
- Gaganis Premium Australian Poppy
- Poppy Seeds by East West Foods Wholesale Pty Ltd
- Royal Fields Poppy Seeds by Basfoods International Pty Ltd
The organization says consumers should not eat these products and should return to the point of purchase for a full refund and safe disposal.
How do you get sick from poppies?
As background, it’s probably helpful to explain that poppy seeds come from the poppy, which is the source of the drug opium.
The plant is also used to make painkillers like morphine and codeine.
Australia is one of the world’s largest producers of poppy seeds, with Tasmania supplying an estimated half of the world’s stocks.
Harvesting is tightly controlled as the plant’s capsules can be fatal if ingested. Overdoses from drinking poppy seeds have been fatal.
This brings us to the latest health warnings. Non-food grade poppy seeds have “mistakenly” entered the food supply chain, according to Victoria Health.
The department says patients needed treatment for suspected high thebaine toxicity.
People have been asked not to consume any of the affected products.
Who is at risk from the poppy?
Research is ongoing, but eating poppy seeds on bagels or in cakes doesn’t seem to be a priority.
The Victoria Board of Health says those who consume large amounts of raw poppy seeds are at the highest risk.
Patients treated for poisoning reported using between 120g and 1kg, for example in teas.
“Toxic effects have not been reported from ingestion of small amounts of semen as food,” says the Victorian Department of Health.
“However, smaller amounts have an effect [either cooked or raw] is unknown and investigations into this are ongoing.”
Poppy tea drinkers have been warned of the risks of consumption, but the Victoria Board of Health says the appearance of the brewed tea could indicate if it’s toxic.
“An unusual dark brown color and bitter taste in the rinse/tea after brewing may indicate unusual toxicity,” the department’s website says.
What are the symptoms of ingesting poisonous poppies?
Clinical presentations of cases in Victoria include:
- Tachycardia (a heart rate over 100 beats per minute)
- high blood pressure (high blood pressure)
- Hypertension (stiff limbs)
- Clonus (involuntary muscle movements)
- unsteady walk
- diaphoresis (sweating)
- stiffness or twitching of the limbs
- metabolic acidosis
- acute kidney injury
According to NSW Health, severe symptoms can also include cardiac arrest – the sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness.
What else should I know?
Basically, do not consume any of the affected poppy seeds.
You can’t tell which seeds are high in thebaine by looking at them, says the Victorian Health Authority.
The onset of symptoms has been reported to occur within minutes to hours after ingestion of the poppy seeds.
If you don’t feel any symptoms after four hours of consumption, you’re unlikely to be unwell, says the Victorian Health Board.
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