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    Missoula man dies from foraged morels the same week as Dave's Sushi outbreak

    By Cassidy Powers,


    BOZEMAN — Peter Dayton was an avid outdoorsman. At 69, he was an enthusiastic kayaker, backcountry skier, hunter, fisherman, and more. In 2018, he and his wife Coleen Hunter began foraging mushrooms. I spoke to Colleen over the phone as she told me about her husband’s death.

    Colleen says on April 12, Peter canoed down the Green River in Utah with some friends and family. That evening, Peter prepared a meal for himself and a friend that included morel mushrooms he foraged in June of 2022.

    Peter brought a Ziplock bag of home-dried morels and added them to Ben’s Original Ready Rice Mushroom Risotto for dinner. He used a Jet Boil Stove to prepare the meal, then they ate dinner.

    Within two hours, Peter and his friend became dizzy and felt ill. Both vomited and suffered from gastronomical issues for several hours. Peter became more dehydrated, while his friend started to feel better.

    Members of the group began giving Peter sips of Gatorade every 10 to 15 minutes until they felt Peter was starting to improve. They decided to let him sleep for a couple of hours. When they went back to his tent to wake him, they discovered that he had died.

    Peter was an experienced morel forager who cooked and ate the mushrooms often; in a Facebook post, he shows off using morels in a lasagna. So, what made this meal fatal?

    “I know that he did cook those morels on a jet boil. And that's a camping stove where it's kind of hard to cook things for a while. I know that the rice he used only takes 5 minutes. So it's possible those morels were undercooked,” said Cathy Cripps, a mycologist and retired professor of Montana State University who has been working with Peter’s wife.

    Cripps has foraged and eaten morels for over 30 years.

    “Morels should definitely be cooked really well. I cook them in the frying pan until they’re well done on both sides. And then I cook them another 10 minutes on each side,” Cripps told me.

    She says morels should always be eaten in small portions and never be eaten raw. They must be cooked thoroughly to remove any toxins, and even then, people can still have bad reactions to morels.

    But what is the poison in these mushrooms?

    “We don't know if the toxins in morels are hydrazines yet. If they are, we do know that hydrazines can accumulate in the body over time,” says Cripps.

    Hydrazines are naturally occurring toxins that can accumulate in the body of someone who regularly consumes them. Cripps tells me this may have been a factor in Peter’s death.

    “It’s also possible that eating a lot of morels ahead of time predisposed him to having a reaction to the final morels,” says Cripps.

    Because there is still so much that remains unknown with morels, there is no way to know the specific reason Peter died from the meal and his friend didn't.

    Colleen has been working with the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services to get more information to the public, including better labeling on commercially sold morels that would provide cooking requirements and a caution about eating in moderation.

    Colleen says she’s grateful to tell Peter’s story so she can spread awareness and prevent others from suffering the same fate as her husband.

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