Devil's lettuce: Toxic weed harvested with baby spinach causing delirium in Australia

Salads recalled after consumers report hallucinations, dilated pupils, and worse

Some 130 salad fans in Australia got more than they bargained for when picking up grub where contaminated baby spinach was an ingredient – including hallucinations and delirium.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand has yanked several products including packaged salads and stir fry mixes from shelves of retailers Costco, Woolworths, Aldi and Coles across New South Wales.

The tainted veg is thought to originate from Riviera Farms in Victoria and the problem is described as "potential contamination with unsafe plant material."

The company said: "It appears these products, which were grown on a farm in Victoria and shipped to stores in NSW, have been contaminated with a weed which can have health consequences if consumed.

"Riviera Farms advised authorities immediately after being alerted by one of our retailers and we will continue to work closely with health and food regulators as investigations continue."

The symptoms reported include delirium or confusion, hallucinations, dilated pupils, rapid heartbeat, flushed face, blurred vision, dry mouth and skin, and fever.

Investigation has led the food safety regulator to believe that toxic weeds were harvested alongside the spinach and accidentally included in the product.

Dr Brett Summerell, chief scientist at Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens, told The Guardian he suspected a variety of nightshade. "When young, they are just a few dark green leaves which is probably not that much different to spinach," he said. "You're harvesting all these leafy greens now at a very young age, sometimes it can be quite difficult [to identify]."

He went on to caution people against seeking out such plants to get high: "People might be tempted to go out picking weeds thinking that they'll get some sort of high [but] it's really important to remember yes, there might be a hallucinogenic side to this, but there's a whole lot of really horrible health issues.

"Whether it's a mushroom or whether it's the sorts of weeds, if you don't know what you're eating, don't eat it."

Michael Coote, chief executive of industry body Ausveg, said: "It is another piece of plant matter from a weed that has been found on this particular farm that has made it through the harvest and packing process and then into products. It's not the spinach itself that is causing these health issues."

As of the weekend, at least 33 people have sought medical attention after eating the contaminated spinach. Customers are being told to return affected products to the place of purchase for a full refund. ®

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