Mushroom poisoning

Poisonous wild mushrooms are found growing across South Australia particularly after heavy rains in late summer to early winter when the earth is still warm. It isn’t possible to tell if a mushroom is toxic by its taste. Eating poisonous mushrooms can make a person very ill or even have life-threatening consequences.

There is no simple reliable test that shows which mushrooms are safe to eat. Even mushroom experts can have difficulty identifying some species. Mushrooms change their appearance depending on their growth stage so poisonous mushrooms can appear very similar and be easily mistaken for edible supermarket varieties.

We do not know the native fungi at all well, with only about 10-15% of the larger fungi described. There is a concern that people who have attended a local foraging tour may feel that they are now able to reliably recognise an edible mushroom species when foraging out on their own but ultimately misidentify poisonous mushrooms and risk their health.

Preventing poisoning from wild mushrooms

Things you can do to prevent poisoning from wild mushrooms:

  • don’t pick and eat wild mushrooms
  • only eat mushrooms that have been purchased from a reliable greengrocer or supermarket
  • cooking, peeling, soaking or drying wild mushrooms does not remove or inactivate any poison to make them safe to eat
  • keep a close eye on young children and pets outdoors when mushrooms are most likely to be growing
  • talk to your families, friends and neighbours about the dangers of wild mushrooms.

Mushroom poisoning emergency

  • If you suspect a person has eaten a Death Cap mushroom, seek immediate medical attention at the nearest emergency department. Do not wait for symptoms to occur.
  • Anyone who becomes ill after eating a wild mushroom should seek urgent medical attention by going to the nearest emergency department or medical clinic.
  • If you suspect a person has eaten a wild mushroom, contact the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 and they will advise if it is necessary to seek immediate medical attention.
  • Do not induce vomiting or give the person anything to drink unless advised by the Poisons Information Centre or another medical professional.
  • If possible, take a sample of the mushroom or a photo to help identify the species of mushroom.

In an emergency always call 000 for an ambulance

Types of poisonous mushrooms

Death Cap mushrooms

  • Death Cap mushrooms (Amanita phalloides) are one of the most deadly mushrooms in the world, responsible for around 90% of all mushroom poisoning deaths. Four people have died in Australia after eating Death Cap mushrooms.
  • Death Cap mushrooms look similar to some harmless varieties.
  • The entire Death Cap mushroom is highly toxic and one mushroom can contain enough poison to kill an adult.
  • Death Cap mushrooms usually grow near established exotic deciduous hardwood trees - most commonly under oak trees.
  • Death Cap mushrooms are reported to grow, peel and taste just like a harmless field mushroom, and they are sometimes mistaken for edible Straw mushrooms used extensively in Asian cooking.

Symptoms of mushroom poisoning

Symptoms can be delayed by 6 to 24 hours after eating poisonous mushrooms. Severity depends on how much is eaten and symptoms may last for 2 to 3 days. Symptoms include:

  • violent stomach cramps
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea.

Gastrointestinal symptoms associated with eating Death Cap mushrooms can appear to resolve after 2 to 4 days but toxic damage to the liver continues and causes death up to two weeks after ingestion. There is no complete antidote for Death Cap mushroom poisoning and survival depends on early diagnosis and treatment.

Who is most at risk?

Anyone who has consumed a wild mushroom is at risk of potential life-threatening illness.

  • Young children: between 60 to 70% of calls about mushroom poisoning made by South Australians to the Poisons Information Centre involve children under five years of age. At this age, it is a natural behaviour for toddlers to put things in their mouths and eat plant matter. Most young children who eat poisonous mushrooms find them in the garden at home.
  • Cooking enthusiasts: foraging for wild food is becoming increasingly popular in Australia and is promoted heavily by culinary experts in the media and on television cooking programs. But when people gather wild mushrooms they can accidentally include toxic species.
  • New Asian migrants and international students may accidentally pick Death Cap mushrooms if they mistake them for edible Straw [paddy] mushrooms - the Straw mushroom grows and is eaten throughout Asia but does not grow naturally in Australia.
  • Overseas visitors from countries in the Northern Hemisphere where gathering mushrooms is an established cultural activity.
  • Pets: there have been a number of cases reported in South Australia of dogs that have been poisoned and died from acute liver failure after eating poisonous mushrooms in backyards and when out on walks. While cats tend to be more discerning about what they eat they are still at risk - particularly inquisitive kittens that might chew on a toxic species.


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