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Can mushroom-based products cause food poisoning?

December 17th , 2021 by

The humble mushroom is on the rise worldwide, hailed by vegans and vegetarians as a nutrient-dense protein that’s gentle on the planet, and coveted by chefs and home cooks for its unique ‘umami’ flavour. 

But with increased people buying and even growing their mushrooms, and more food producers crafting mushroom-based products, safety can be a concern – particularly given their short shelf-life, the toxicity of some fungi, and the conditions needed to grow them.

So how can you make sure your enjoyment of this superfood doesn’t end in a nasty bout of  food poisoning? We’ve broken down the preventative steps to safe mushroom consumption into three main areas: where/how to source them, how to store them, and how to prepare them. We also touch on the safety of manufactured mushroom-based meat products.

Sourcing mushrooms or mushroom-based products

The safest way to source fresh, non-toxic mushrooms is to buy them from a reputable supplier, such as a supermarket, grocer, or grower. When selecting your mushrooms, or receiving delivery, ensure they are fresh with no brown spots or bruises. The flesh should be firm and the skin soft – not mushy, slimy, or wrinkly.

If you’re looking at buying a meat substitute containing mushrooms, read the label carefully. Keep an eye out for ingredients that could be potential allergens such as soy, gluten, dairy, or eggs. Be aware that mushroom-based meat alternatives, known as ‘mycoproteins’, are created from a fungus that may be a potential allergen for some people. 

Finally, if you’re keen to grow your mushrooms, make sure you buy a mushroom growing kit from a reputable source and follow the instructions carefully. To prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, the compost or substrate must be sterilised and safe, as should any equipment you use. You also need to be aware of potential health risks from exposure to mushroom spores.

How to store mushrooms

Raw mushrooms are high in moisture content, so they have a shorter-than-average shelf life and need to be stored correctly. They should be always refrigerated in a paper bag or porous container (e.g., cardboard). This will absorb any moisture that seeps from the mushroom, causing them to deteriorate quickly. For this reason, it’s also best not to wash mushrooms before storage. 

Avoid plastic bags and sealed containers, as the lack of airflow will speed up spoilage and could lead to the growth of harmful bacteria such as botulism. 

How to prepare mushrooms and mushroom-based products

The same basic rules around hygiene and cross-contamination apply to preparing mushrooms as with any other food – whether meat or plant-based: use warm water and soap to thoroughly wash hands, utensils, and surfaces before and after preparing and cooking.

Remember to discard any mushrooms that are bruised, slimy or spoiled, and to clean them gently under cool running water or with a damp paper towel. This includes the underside of the mushroom, which can harbour bacteria. If you are using a mushroom-based meat substitute, always check the use-by date and follow the cooking instructions on the packet.

Mushrooms – a future worldwide food staple?

The global mushroom market is expected to increase from USD 45.8 billion in 2020 to 63.24 billion by 2027. That’s a staggering 17.44 billion dollars in just seven years!

There’s no doubt that the increased consumption of these delicious morsels is a great thing for our health and our planet. But with DIY mushroom kits and growing boxes sprouting up across the globe as more people seek to grow their food, and fungi-focused food startups jumping on board the plant-based trend, it’s more important than ever that we research, report on, and educate people about the risks.

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