Better mushroom quality urged as Hong Kong poisonings rise
Doctor believes cases could stem from inedible varieties being mixed in during harvesting
Doctors have called for better quality control of porcini after the city continued to see a concerning number of poisoning cases arising from its consumption.
The nine poisoning cases of porcini, a type of wild mushroom and popular culinary ingredient, were among the 4,126 poisoning cases in total recorded by the Hospital Authority’s Poison Information Centre last year. The figure was up slightly from 4,030 in 2015.
Among the total number of cases last year, 36 people died, with 21 relating to suicide.
The centre has noticed a rapid increase in the number of cases involving porcini in recent years. While there were only six cases between 2005 and 2014, the number jumped to 12 in 2015. As of Sunday, seven cases were recorded this year.
On Monday the Centre for Health Protection reported a new suspected poisoning case.
A family of three presented vomiting and diarrhoea five hours after consuming porcini on February 18. The three visited the emergency ward at Queen Mary Hospital.
They had bought the mushrooms from a store in Sai Ying Pun between mid-November and early December last year.
“We believe what is available for sale should be edible,” Hospital Authority consultant Dr Tse Man-li said. “But there could be a quality problem during harvesting in that both edible and inedible species were mixed together.”
Tse explained there were hundreds of porcini species but not all were safe for eating. He believed the rise in cases might be due to either worsening quality of the mushroom or its growing popularity in Hong Kong.
In most cases, the purchased mushrooms had been produced on the mainland or at unknown places and obtained from supermarkets or health food stores. Those sickened had developed symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. But at least one case had resulted in more severe symptoms, such as visual hallucination or confusion.
Worms, dead flies and soil debris had been found on the porcini samples provided by patients who sought medical help.
“We hope the quality of porcini can be improved or assured,” Tse said.
Hospital Authority associate consultant Dr Chan Chi-keung suggested porcini be bought only from reputable shops.
“There could be quality problems if the mushrooms are broken into pieces ... or if there were insects or soil,” Chan said.
Apart from thorough cleansing, longer cooking times could also reduce toxin levels in some of the mushrooms.
A Centre for Food Safety spokesman said 13 porcini samples were collected for chemical and microbiological tests last year. Only one was found to have excessive metallic contaminants.
Separately, the centre also warned there was a risk of lead poisoning when consuming traditional South Asian medicine, after it recorded a severe lead poisoning case in December last year. A 62-year-old Nepalese woman was found to have 15 times more lead in her blood than the maximum safety level. Her case was believed to have been linked to her consumption of a traditional Indian medicine that contained 108,389 parts per million of lead.