High tea anyone?

French consumers warned not to eat poppy seeds after a morphine-contaminated batch made its way into workers’ sandwiches

15 March 2019 - 09:09
French health officials are said to be investigating the presence of morphine and codeine in poppy seed baguettes and ready-made sandwiches made with poppy seed bread after staff at several French companies tested positive for opiates, but were adamant that they hadn’t taken any drugs.
French health officials are said to be investigating the presence of morphine and codeine in poppy seed baguettes and ready-made sandwiches made with poppy seed bread after staff at several French companies tested positive for opiates, but were adamant that they hadn’t taken any drugs.
Image: www.123rf.com

 Can you get high on poppy seeds?

The short answer is yes. People in France have this month been warned to avoid eating poppy seed bread after tests found that it contained morphine and codeine, which can cause intoxication, vomiting or nausea.

According to news reports, French health officials are investigating the presence of the drugs in poppy seed baguettes and ready-made sandwiches made with poppy seed bread.

Staff at several French companies tested positive for opiates in routine urine tests and were judged unfit to work, but they were adamant that they hadn’t taken any drugs.

Tests confirmed that the poppy seeds in the bread contained particularly high amounts of alkaloids.

Opium, heroin, codeine and morphine all come from opium poppies, but while poppy seeds don’t contain any of those substances, they have been found to have become tainted from the latex sap of the plant during the harvesting process.

Jean-Claude Alvarez, head of the toxicology department at the Raymond-Poincaré hospital in Garches, near Paris, said a single sandwich made with contaminated poppy seed bread could contain as much as 4mg of morphine, the equivalent of nearly half a tablet of morphine sulphate, which is given to people suffering from cancer.

“I strongly advise people not to eat poppy seed bread until we tell them otherwise,” he said. “The drugs we have found (in poppy seed bread) are only supposed to be used by people in severe pain, and then on top of that there is the risk of addiction.”

A woman from Maryland in the US, who tested positive for opiates while giving birth to her daughter in  April 2018, put the so-called “poppy seed bagel defence” back in the news.

Elizabeth Eden had eaten a poppy seed bagel that morning and remembered hearing that poppy seeds had led to false positives on drug tests, but she was still separated from her baby for five days while case workers examined her life, before clearing her.

Food scientist Hesrie van Heerden, of Stellenbosch-based Food & Allergy Consulting & Testing Services, told TimesLIVE that while processed poppy seeds were generally safe, “there are no threshold levels for poppy seed consumption, so care should be taken with specific individuals who could be potentially at risk for intoxication - infants, young children and pregnant women”.

“The general symptoms of intoxication caused by poppy seeds are extremely similar to food poisoning or stomach flu symptoms - dizziness, vomiting and ‘hangover-like feelings’.

These could easily be incorrectly diagnosed, she said, and cases of poppy seed intoxication could have gone unreported in South Africa as a result.

“The last thing one would think when feeling sick is that it is due to contaminated poppy seeds!”

Sars import and export data indicates that South Africa imported poppy seeds mainly from Turkey and the Netherlands in the past two years.

Curiously, that data also reveals that in that time South Africa exported about 56,000kg of poppy seeds to mostly African countries.

Woolworths said it sells about 30 products containing poppy seeds, including bagels, multiseed wraps, muffins and ancient grain bites, sourced from Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Turkey and South Africa.

“Food safety is of paramount importance to Woolworths and we take all issues regarding the production of our food seriously. Full traceability of raw ingredients is critical.”


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