Health Canada

Health Canada

June 09, 2008 13:36 ET

Information Update: Food Safety Measures for Fiddleheads

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - June 9, 2008) - Health Canada reminds Canadians that fresh fiddleheads should be properly cooked before being consumed.

Fiddleheads are the curled, edible shoots of the ostrich fern. They are collected in the wild and sold as a seasonal vegetable in stores and outdoor markets.

Cases of temporary illness from eating raw or undercooked fiddleheads were first reported in 1994. Additional cases have been periodically reported since then. Although no proven cause for this health hazard has yet been identified, Health Canada believes it is most likely the result of an unidentified natural toxin present in the fiddleheads.

Health Canada recommends that fresh fiddleheads be washed several times in fresh cold water. They should then be cooked in boiling water for 15 minutes or steamed for 10 to 12 minutes until tender. Water used for boiling or steaming fiddleheads should be discarded as it may contain the toxin. Fiddleheads should also be boiled or steamed prior to sauteing, frying or baking.

Symptoms of illness usually begin 30 minutes to 12 hours after eating raw or undercooked fiddleheads, and may include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and headaches. Illness generally lasts less than 24 hours. This can result in dehydration, particularly among the elderly and in infants. There have been no reported cases of illness connected with eating fully cooked fiddleheads.

Anyone experiencing the above symptoms after consuming fiddleheads should seek the advice of a health care professional and contact their local public health unit.

It is estimated that there are as many as 13 million cases of food-related illnesses in Canada every year. Many of these illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques.

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