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Picking Mushrooms Can Be Deadly With California Rains, Expect Death Cap Mushrooms to Surface

In anticipation of the upcoming rainy season, California Poison Control System (CPCS) is warning the public about the potential dangers of eating wild mushrooms. Buying cultivated mushrooms at a reputable food market is the safe way to eat them, rather than eating wild mushrooms that were picked by friends or family members. Last season, heavy rains contributed to a bumper crop of poisonous Amanita phalloides or “death cap” mushrooms and an increase in human poisonings reported to the CPCS.

Craig Smollin, MD, medical director at CPCS for the San Francisco area says, “No matter how experienced one is at mushroom identification, there is always a risk in eating wild mushrooms.” Contrary to folklore which says poison mushrooms are brightly colored, poison mushrooms typically look like most edible mushrooms. Death caps, abundant in California, can easily be mistaken for other edible mushrooms, growing mainly under coastal live oaks. There are more than 700 cases of mushroom ingestion reported to CPCS each year. Fatalities are uncommon but do occur. The only safe mushrooms are those purchased at established food markets.

Eating poisonous mushrooms can cause abdominal pain, cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, liver damage, and death. Symptoms typically develop six to 12 hours after eating. The most serious illnesses and deaths have been linked to mushrooms that cause liver damage, including Amanita ocreata or “destroying angel,” as well as the death cap.