Sunday, March 20, 2005
Excerpt from the Los Angeles Times. Reprinted without any permission. I am just including this because I think it is INSANE!
By Corie Brown Times Staff Writer March 16, 2005
Although they are known to be elusive, it was a surprise when wild mushrooms recently disappeared from farmers markets throughout Los Angeles County. On Feb. 2, the vendor at the Santa Monica and Hollywood markets, David West, was shut down by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.
No reports of anyone getting sick from mushrooms preceded the county's action. In fact, there has never been a report from any state or local health organization of anyone in the United States becoming ill from wild mushrooms purchased in a store or farmers market or eaten in a restaurant.So why the sudden shutdown? Why just at farmers markets? And is a ban at restaurants and supermarkets to follow?
Terrance Powell, the environmental ombudsman with the county health department, says he only recently learned, through his inspectors at the farmers markets, that wild mushrooms, indeed, do grow wild. By definition, they are foraged from forest floors, not cultivated on farms.There is a dangerous gap in the regulations, Powell says, and that worries him. "Should we wait to have people get sick? Our job is to be proactive…. Consumers rely on food being safe."
Stepping in where no California regulator has gone before, Powell plans to issue new product identification and source disclosure regulations governing the sale of wild mushrooms across Los Angeles, including distributors, wholesalers, retailers and restaurants. If Powell has his way, before consumers take their first bites of this spring's fresh morels, they will know exactly where each wild mushroom grew, who identified it as a morel, and that person's qualification for the job of mushroom identifier.
A "buyer beware" notice will be posted at points of sale to warn consumers that the mushroom grew on land that is not regulated by the Department of Agriculture or Health Services "and therefore was subject to conditions that may potentially contaminate, adulterate, or otherwise render the product unfit for human consumption."
True, the health risk is strictly theoretical, Powell says, but throughout the years, several amateur wild mushrooms foragers have gotten sick and some have died. Powell believes it is just a matter of time before a commercial forager makes the amateur's mistake. He's acting now, he says, to forestall disaster.
If they abide by the new rules, the farmers market vendors may resume sales immediately, Powell says, which would be good news for consumers.
"It's not easy being first, but I feel extremely justified in looking at this," Powell says.The urge to regulate happens frequently when officials first discover the peculiarities of wild mushrooms, says Dave Bengston, Mendocino County agriculture commissioner. And just as predictably as they try to regulate them, he says, they drop the idea. "In my mind, mushrooms are like any other fruit or vegetable, common things we eat all the time that, treated improperly, are poisonous," Bengston says. "Fix rhubarb wrong, it's the same thing. And you don't see a lot of people panicking over rhubarb."
Mendocino County hasn't regulated its foragers, Bengston says. As for Los Angeles County, Powell doesn't care what has happened elsewhere; as far as he is concerned, his new interim rules should stand as law until the state decides whether to act. And what does the state say? "We don't know what the county is doing," says Robert Miller, spokesman for the California Department of Health Services.
To date, Powell has not notified the state of his new regulations.According to Miller, the state would like to see a requirement that foragers go through a training and licensing program. But because wild mushroom commerce crosses state lines, he says, "we're waiting for the federal government to act."Meanwhile, as gourmands eagerly await the arrival of morel season, tracking down wild mushrooms in Los Angeles is likely to be a mind bender.
Did you know that the "Blogger Search" box at the top of this page actually searches this site?
So next time you are longing for my Bean Sprout Salad recipe or want to know what cheeses I recommend, just type it in and see what happens. Until I figure out a better archiving system, it will do!