FREMONT – As morel mushroom hunting season approaches, be mindful of food safety. It’s important to remember flood waters don’t carry just water. There is a host of unsavory things that are downright dangerous:
- Human disease pathogens from raw sewage
- Pesticides carried from farm fields and lawns on soil particles and plant residue,
- Rubber and petroleum products from cars, boats and farm equipment.
While there is NO washing technique that will completely remove all contaminants from morels, the heat from cooking mushrooms is likely to kill human pathogenic bacteria and viruses – likely, but not guaranteed. As for pesticide and petroleum residues, no amount of washing or cooking will remove these dangerous contaminants. These products can be harbored in the tiniest crevices and tissues of the morel, and are extremely resistant to removal by washing.
Flood waters throughout the state have been confirmed to carry, at the very least, E.coli and total coliform bacteria. There’s no way to know all of the contaminants carried in to each specific flooded area, so it’s far safer to avoid eating morels gathered from flood affected areas.
If you still intend to hunt morels this year, mushroom gatherers should choose their site with care. High ground will obviously be the better choice. One way to tell whether your site was high enough is to look around for flood debris. If corn stalks and grass are caught high in brush, trees or fences, this is a clear indication the site was flooded. If out of place objects like wood scraps, boat parts or obvious home debris are present on the site, you can assume the area was flooded. In areas with flood evidence, it’s best to skip morel gathering this year.
Never use soap to clean morels. Instead use 2 tablespoons of bleach to one gallon of water for washing, followed by thorough rinsing with clean water.
While it’s hard to imagine missing out on this tasty spring treat, morel mushrooms will come again next year – better safe than sorry for this season.
For more flood resources, go to flood.unl.edu.
Kathleen Cue, Nebraska Extension Horticulture Educator, contributed to this story.