Thornapple, also known as jimsonweed, was accidentally harvested and packed alongside baby spinach at New South Wales producer Riviera Farms. Within days, at least 190 people across four states had reported symptoms including hallucinations, blurred vision, and confusion potentially related to the consumption of weed.
Following months of flooding and rain across the country, the incident has raised concerns about an increase in the number of weeds affecting Australian crops. Flooding can transport seeds to previously uninhabited areas, and increased rainfall increases the likelihood of seeds germinating. In recent months, Australia has experienced flooding brought about by a third consecutive summer of La Nina, the climate phenomenon that brings heavy rain to countries including Australia and drought to regions in North and South America.
The tainted vegetables are 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 that can have health consequences if consumed.”
The symptoms reported include delirium or confusion, hallucinations, dilated pupils, rapid heartbeat, flushed face, blurred vision, dry mouth and skin, and fever. An investigation has led the food safety regulator to believe that toxic weeds were harvested alongside the spinach and accidentally included in the product.
The New South Wales Department of Primary Industries website describes thornapple, whose scientific name is Datura stramonium, as a “vigorous growing plant” that can poison people and animals. “The entire plant, particularly the seeds, is poisonous.” “It contains topane alkaloids, toxins that can cause serious illness or death.”