Department of Health

Health warning on poppy seeds

Health alert

Status:
Active
Alert number:
221115
Date issued:
14 Nov 2022 - Update to CHO alert 11 November 2022
Issued by:
Dr Angie Bone, Deputy Chief Health Officer (Environment)
Issued to:
Health professionals and the Victorian community

Key messages

  • Non-food grade poppy seeds have incorrectly entered the food supply chain. These seeds are not intended for human consumption and are not safe to consume
  • Some batches of commercially available poppy seeds, when brewed into a concentrated form such as a tea, have resulted in cases of severe toxicity
  • Anyone who has consumed large quantities of poppy seeds, for example as a drink, and experiences any unusual and severe symptoms should attend their nearest Emergency Department.
  • A national food recall is currently underway to remove affected product identified to date. See Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) for the brands and batch numbers currently affected. Monitor this website closely for ongoing updates.
  • The investigation is continuing, with ongoing identification of specific brands affected. Given the uncertainties, consumers may wish to avoid consumption of poppy seeds purchased since September 2022, until the investigation has concluded. 
  • The Victorian Poisons Information Centre can be contacted 24/7 on 13 11 26 and can provide more information about poisons and what to do in suspected cases of poppy seed poisoning.

What is the issue?

Reports of unusual and severe symptoms following consumption of home-brewed poppy seed tea have continued. This is occurring within Victoria and across Australia. As of 15/11/22 there have been eleven reported cases in Victoria.

Clinical presentations include:

  • tachycardia
  • hypertension
  • hypertonia
  • clonus
  • unsteady gait
  • diaphoresis (sweating)
  • limb stiffness or jerking
  • seizures 
  • metabolic acidosis
  • acute kidney injury

The onset of symptoms has been reported to occur very soon after consumption of the poppy seeds (within minutes to hours).

The recent clinical presentations are suspicious for thebaine (an opioid alkaloid) toxicity. The high levels of thebaine involving some batches of supermarket poppy seeds are due to a quantity of non-food grade poppy seeds incorrectly entering the human food supply chain. These seeds are not intended for human consumption and are not safe to consume.

However not all poppy seeds are involved. A food recall is being undertaken for poppy seeds from the known affected brands across Australia. A food recall is action taken by a food business to remove unsafe food from distribution, sale and consumption.

This supply chain is complex and the investigation to find out which brands and which exact batches are affected is ongoing. The list of affected brands will continue to be updated and published on the FSANZ website.

Consumers should not consume the affected products, and should return them to the place of purchase for a full refund and safe disposal. If you are unsure or cannot get to the place of purchase, dispose of the seeds and their packaging in a general waste bin. 

Who is at risk?

Individuals consuming large volumes of raw poppy seeds, for example as a tea, are at highest risk. Patients report reasonably large doses, using between 120g-1kg. 

Toxic effects have not been reported from ingestion of smaller quantities of seeds as food however the impact of smaller amounts (either cooked or raw) is not known and investigations into this are on-going.

Recommendations

For the public

You cannot tell which poppy seeds have high thebaine content by looking at the seeds.

The advice is to not consume the affected poppy seeds. Visit the FSANZ website for product return/ refund and safe disposal details.

The onset of symptoms has been reported to occur soon after consumption of the poppy seeds (within minutes to hours).

If you have consumed the seeds more than 4 hours ago and are feeling ok, it is unlikely that you will become unwell at this stage.

Poppy seed tea drinkers should be aware of the significant risk of consumption and note that an unusual dark brown colour and bitter taste in the wash/tea after brewing may indicate unusual toxicity. 

The investigation is continuing, with ongoing identification of specific brands affected. Given the uncertainties, consumers may wish to avoid consumption of poppy seeds purchased since September 2022, until the investigation has concluded.

Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any toxic effects following poppy seed consumption

For help:

  • Call Triple Zero (000) for emergency assistance
  • Go to your nearest emergency department
  • Call the Victorian Poisons Information Centre (13 11 26).
  • If you or someone you know needs help with alcohol or drug use, call DirectLine on 1800 888 236 or visit directline.org.au for information and support to access treatment.

For health professionals 

Health professionals should:

  • Be aware of individuals who present with the above clinical picture
  • Where possible collect a blood sample: at least 2mL of blood in an EDTA tube, tube NOT centrifuged and place in a small bag of ice 
  • Contact the Victorian Poisons Information Centre (13 11 26) for noting and the latest clinical advice including blood testing which should be undertaken.   
  • There is limited information on management of thebaine toxicity, but benzodiazepines should be considered, and the Victorian Poisons Information Centre contacted for advice.

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Reviewed 15 November 2022

Health.vic

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