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The Hallucinogenic Mushroom Industry Needs to Take Food Safety Seriously

A Single Outbreak Could Destroy an Emerging Market Before It Ever Gets Off the Ground

By Everyday JunglistPublished 3 months ago 5 min read
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Fly agaric (Amanita Muscaria). a basidiomycete of the genus Amanita Image by 557453 from Pixabay

Hallucinogenic mushrooms are now legal in California and poised to become legal in Colorado in 2024. The details of both laws appear to be substantially similar. Each considers hallucinogenic mushrooms as therapeutic drugs and allows for their cultivation, possession, and distribution as thearupeutic agents. In a strange, logic defying twist, neither allows for their advertisement or sale. Those activities both remain illegal. It appears that many in California have chosen to ignore that particular aspect of the law as hallucinogenic mushrooms can be found and ordered with relative ease online, and the sellers are using sophisticated marketing and slick packaging that certainly look a lot like advertising. I have no desire to debate the merits or demerits of the state laws and will leave it to others to decide who may or may not be breaking them, and with what practices. Meanwhile, hallucinogenic mushrooms, like all hallucinogens, remain illegal at the federal level, and you can be arrested and go to jail for a significantly long period of time if caught growing, distributing, or even just possessing small quantities of them. I think it is fair to say the feds and the states disagree on this question, and I am fairly certain there are many in the federal government who view the laws in California and Colorado as direct challenges to their authority, and potentially dangerous. Both of those beliefs are likely incorrect, however, they are genuinely believed, and thus the feds will be looking for any angle to stop or at least slow down the hallucinogenic mushroom movement in any way it can. If they cannot do so through the usual law enforcement channels another option would be through the federal regulatory agencies with law enforcement authority, this includes the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

What does all that have to do with food safety you may be asking yourself if you have not yet fallen asleep or clicked away to watch cat videos on YouTube. First, it is important to realize that many of the people distributing mushrooms either for free or for sale are doing so in the form of edibles. Much like what happened with cannabis, it appears the hallucinogenic mushroom industry is going to revolve around food (and drinks) as the primary drug delivery vehicles. Specifically, also like with cannabis, an early favorite appears to be chocolate. Second, growing mushrooms, and making food with them, is an inherently risky process from a microbiological safety perspective. Manure is sometimes used as fertilizer and that can come loaded with any number of enteric pathogens like Salmonella and pathogenic E. coli to name just two. Both microorganisms have caused outbreaks associated with chocolate in the past. Salmonella in particular has been a problem for chocolate makers for a very long time, and has been responsible for numerous outbreaks and a much larger number of recalls. The reasons for this are complex and would require another article to even scratch the surface, but, as a Ph.D. microbiologist, who is an expert in food safety, you can take my word for it when I say Salmonella and E. coli and chocolate do not play well together.

All you mushroom growers who are reading this can stop and take a deep breath now before laying into me. I realize that many of you do use pre-sterilized manure as fertilizer or do not use manure at all. Wood chips are a very common growth medium for mushrooms, and can provide all the nutrients most mushrooms need. I recognize that bacterial contamination is one of the biggest problems you face in cultivation so you take great care to keep your processes free from bacteria. Some of you are even successful at it, but many others are not, or are only partially successful, or think they are successful, but actually are not. Just because your mushrooms survive and thrive, does not mean they and the materials they are grown in, are free from pathogenic bacteria. Even if the growers manage to keep their cultivation spaces free of pathogens, food production processes are rife with hazards and steps where pathogens can be introduced. Unless you are an experienced food manufacturer or expert in food safety you may easily overlook any one of a thousand risks.. I do not know this for a fact, but I would hazard a guess that the people growing mushrooms and then making them into edibles are not, by and large, food production experts. The only cooking experience many of them probably have is in their own kitchens. The consequences of one screw up would be disastrous for whichever grower happened to make the contaminated item that caused an outbreak. The consequences for their colleagues and peers could be just as severe, as it could well put an end to the industry before it ever even gets off the ground. If psychedelic mushroooms are definitively linked to an outbreak and people get sick, or even worse, die, all those people at the federal level who argued that legalizing mushrooms was reckless and dangerous, would claim to have been vindicated. The majority of the generally anti-drug and fickle American people, would likely be on their side. The FDA would swoop in immediately and start shutting down facilities and likely arresting people as well. The feds would claim a mandate to regulate psychedelic mushroom production based on protection of public health, and put in onerous restrictions that would effectively shut down the entire industry. Obviously, all of this is speculation, but any mushroom grower that reads this cannot say they were not warned. Please, take food safety seriously. Spend the money and take the time to ensure your processes are safe. If that requires hiring experts as consultants or purchasing of new equipment, or adjustments in processes, do it. You may come to regret it later if you don't.

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About the Creator

Everyday Junglist

Practicing mage of the natural sciences (Ph.D. micro/mol bio), Thought middle manager, Everyday Junglist, Boulderer, Cat lover, No tie shoelace user, Humorist, Argan oil aficionado. Occasional LinkedIn & Facebook user

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