January 22, 2018

Food Poisoning From Fiddleheads in US and Canada

Each spring, cases of food poisoning from fiddleheads are reported in the U.S. and Canada. Fiddleheads, the unfurled shoots of ostrich ferns, are edible but can cause illness if eaten raw or not thoroughly cooked. To help fiddlehead lovers enjoy them safely, Health Canada has put together some information.

First, not all ferns are edible,  and some, such as foxglove, are poisonous so consumers should take good care if gathering fiddleheads themselves.  Fiddleheads cannot be eaten raw or preserved by canning.

Fiddleheads are served fried or sauteed  or as an ingredient in soups but they must be boiled or steamed first.  To prepare them, wash them carefully and remove as muh of the brown husk as possible.  Boil them for 15 minutes or steam them for 10 to 12 minutes and discard the water. Never add raw fiddleheads to a soup. After they are boiled or steamed, they can prepared as preferred.

Freezing is the only safe way to preserve fiddleheads. To do so, clean them as described above. Boils them for two minutes, throw away the cooking water and plunge them into cold water and drain. Store them in freezer bags for up to a year. Cook frozen fiddleheads as directed above. Never refreeze them after they have thawed.

Health officials don’t know the exact cause of food poisoning from fiddleheads, but think it is likely a toxin. Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea within 30 minutes to 12 hours of ingestion.

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