Australians urged to support growers as hallucinogenic spinach contamination recall hailed as a success

Australians have been urged to keep spinach on their Christmas grocery shopping lists after a successful recall of 13 tainted products that caused “chilling” hallucinations.

More than 190 people from almost every state and territory in Australia fell ill in the past week and experienced a range of symptoms including dry mouth, blurred vision, delirium and hallucinations.

Several people were hospitalized, including a boy from Queensland, but most people recovered quickly.

Authorities quickly traced the source of the contamination to a single field of spinach grown by Riviera Fresh in eastern Victoria and issued a product recall.

“The products have been potentially contaminated with unsafe plant material that can cause illness,” Food Standards Australia New Zealand said in a statement.

“Anyone who believes they have consumed the product and is concerned is advised to seek medical advice.”

The products were previously on the shelves of Aldi, Costco, Coles and Woolworths.

This week Food Standards Australia New Zealand chief executive Dr Sandra Cuthbert said “all affected products” had been identified and recalled.

“I wish a speedy recovery to those who have fallen ill,” he said.

“Consumers can continue to be confident that Australia has a safe and nutritious food supply.”

Although investigations are ongoing, it is likely that the spinach was contaminated by a toxic weed, such as nightshade, weed, or mandrake root, that grew after the recent flooding.

The food watchdog confirmed laboratory analysis of weed samples was ongoing and recalls had been completed in Victoria, NSW, the ACT, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

NSW Poisons Information Center medical director Dr Darren Roberts said the intensity of symptoms was related to how much a person had consumed.

“The main symptoms people have first is dry mouth and sometimes blurred vision,” he told ABC Radio National.

“But with larger amounts, and this can progress, they can have delirium or confusion.

“They can have hallucinations where they’re seeing things, hearing things, scary things.”

Victoria’s acting assistant director of health for the environment, Dr Danny Csutoros, said people poisoned by the pollution had shown “unusual symptoms”.

The Department reported that the symptoms indicated that the people were suffering from anticholinergic syndrome, a type of intoxication that inhibits the production of a brain chemical related to memory, thinking and the visual system.

Symptoms associated with the syndrome include restlessness, visual and tactile hallucinations, speech problems, and confusion.

A spokesperson for Riviera Farms said the company was “saddened” by the contamination but was working proactively to resolve the issue.

Australia’s peak body for vegetable growers, AUSVEG, said in a statement that consumers can rest assured that all supermarket spinach and leafy vegetable products will not be affected.

“Be sure to remove all products that are included in the recall, but do not remove leafy green vegetables from the menu this Christmas,” the group said.

Originally published as Spinach Contamination, it recalls considered success

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