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Raw Morels Linked to Fatal Outbreak at Popular Montana Sushi Restaurant
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Raw Morels Linked to Fatal Outbreak at Popular Montana Sushi Restaurant

Seraiah Alexander
Seraiah Alexander
July 02, 2024
2 min

What was supposed to be a gourmet dining experience at a sushi restaurant in Bozeman, Montana, led to a fatal food poisoning outbreak. Over 50 patrons fell ill, with symptoms ranging from severe vomiting to life-threatening dehydration. The culprit? Undercooked morel mushrooms. As investigations continue to unfold, health authorities are now urging caution about the risk of raw morels to ensure such a tragedy does not repeat.

A gourmet experience turns fatal

Last spring, the delight of a new food experience turned into a disaster for many. Dave’s Sushi Restaurant, a popular dining spot for both tourists and locals, found itself at the center of a public health investigation. In an attempt to create an innovative dish with a culinary delicacy, the restaurant inadvertently served undercooked morel mushrooms in a sushi roll. Yet this creativity in the kitchen came at a great cost, as those who dined on the new menu item quickly fell ill. 51 diners exhibited rapid and severe gastrointestinal symptoms, leading to three hospitalizations and two fatalities. 

Investigations and findings

The Gallatin City-County Health Department (GCCHD) and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (MT DPHHS) promptly responded to the incident by interviewing those affected to collect detailed information about their dining experience and symptoms. The departments also collaborated with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), performing DNA sequencing to confirm that the mushrooms involved were indeed morels. Analysis identified the species as Morchella sextelata, a true morel. The mushrooms were traced back to a supplier in China and had been distributed to several restaurants across the U.S. without any further outbreaks. Despite extensive testing, no specific toxins were identified in the morel samples, and the exact cause of the severe reactions remains unidentified.

Preventing future tragedies

“There are scientific gaps in knowledge regarding morel mushrooms in the wider public health, medical toxicology, and mycology realms that need further research in order to better understand how morel mushrooms affect human health. Based on the strong epidemiological data, morel mushrooms were the most likely cause of the outbreak but there may be other contributing factors that were not identified during the investigation and that remain unknown,” noted the GCCHD and MT DPHHS in a report regarding the incident.

Although morel mushrooms are typically regarded as safe when prepared properly, the severity of this outbreak serves as a stark reminder of the potential dangers lurking in wild mushrooms.

Health officials are now recommending that restaurants take extra precautions when serving wild mushrooms, including thorough cooking and proper storage. They are also focusing on public education to ensure that consumers are aware of the risks and know how to safely enjoy morels.

Experts advise “that those preparing morels should confirm the identity of each mushroom, and consult with a knowledgeable expert, as poisonous species have been known to grow near edible species in the wild. Choose mushrooms that are dry and firm, and avoid those that are bruised, discolored, slimy, or otherwise spoiled. Morel mushrooms should be refrigerated at a temperature of 40°F or below, in breathable type packaging, such as a paper bag. Morels should be cooked thoroughly prior to consumption, as this is likely to reduce toxin levels present in the mushrooms.”


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health
Seraiah Alexander

Seraiah Alexander

Content Editor

Table Of Contents

1
A gourmet experience turns fatal
2
Investigations and findings
3
Preventing future tragedies

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