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Poppy seeds not meant for food chain behind Australian illnesses


Poppy seeds not meant for human consumption are behind a number of poisonings in Australia, according to health officials.

Investigators found the non-food grade poppy seeds incorrectly entered the food supply chain. It is not clear how this happened. They are not intended for people to eat and are not safe to consume.

There have been 11 cases in Victoria, 12 in New South Wales and at least one South Australian is affected. People have also fallen sick in Queensland and the ​Australian Capital Territory.

Two Western Australians suffered severe reactions after ingesting large quantities of poppy seeds in tea. They have both since recovered. No cases have been reported in Tasmania but recalled products have been sold in the state.

Some batches of poppy seeds, when brewed into a concentrated form such as tea, have resulted in severe toxicity. There has been one case of cardiac arrest and two people are in intensive care. Some patients reported poppy seed tea had an unusual dark brown color and bitter taste. 

Product recalls
The problem does not affect all poppy seeds. A number of recalls have been published by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) for poppy seeds from affected brands across Australia. 

Hoyts Poppy Seeds, Gaganis Premium Australian Poppy Seed, East West Foods Wholesale Poppy Seeds, Basfoods International – Royal Fields Poppy Seeds, and Eumarrah Poppy Seeds are among recalled brands.

Officials said the supply chain is complex and an investigation to find out which brands and batches are affected is ongoing. They added consumers may wish to avoid poppy seeds purchased since September 2022.

The problem is due to high levels of the naturally occurring chemical thebaine in some batches of supermarket poppy seeds. It is not possible to tell which seeds have high thebaine content by looking at them. Poppy varieties rich in thebaine are used to produce medicines and are grown in Australia to supply the pharmaceutical industry.

Symptoms usually appear within minutes to hours and include seizures, severe stomach pain, and muscle spasms, cramps, or stiffness.

There have been no cases of poisoning in people who have eaten poppy seeds as part of baked food products.

Poisons information centers across the country can provide more information about what to do in suspected cases of poppy seed poisoning.

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