Warning to avoid food safety risks online (3 July 2024)

Food poisoning

The Food Safety Information Council today issued a warning about the food safety risks online following the recent hospitalisation of at least five people who had consumed the recalled Uncle Frog’s Mushroom Gummies.

Associate Professor Julian Cox, the Council’s Scientific Director, said that imported food and food sold online must follow the same food safety standards for all foods sold in Australia and the Mushroom Gummies did not adhere to these standards.

‘We were lucky that health authorities quickly made the link between people’s illnesses and consumption of the gummies which were then recalled and the website shut down.  This is yet another warning that the internet can be a food safety minefield, so here are some more tips about online food safety risks:

  1. Tik Tok and other social media are not good sources of scientific information so if you see a video of someone chewing on raw eggs in-shell or tucking into raw chicken or liver don’t copy them as you’re likely to end up with food poisoning. Also if you find a parasite crawling out of your bottom don’t stop to video it but go and see your pharmacist or GP. (Unfortunately, all these videos are real!)
  2. There are plenty of blogs and Facebook pages promoting ‘dumpster divers’ and showing off their finds. We appreciate that the cost of living is making things difficult for many people but if you need support, contact a recognised and reputable food charity such as OzHarvest, Second Bite or FoodBank. Discarded food in dumpsters or rubbish bins is likely to have been contaminated by other rubbish, could be past its use by date, would not have been kept at a safe temperature, or may have been discarded due to a food recall as it is unfit to eat.
  3. It is best to avoid ready to eat food for sale online as it’s better buy it from a legal food business to ensure food safety standards are followed. If you are picking it up from someone’s house it is unlikely to be a food business as domestic kitchens are not suitable for commercial food production.
  4. Foraging for wild food is becoming a popular activity and is increasingly promoted strongly by influencers on social and conventional media. But gathering foods such as wild mushrooms can be life-threatening. There is growing online promotion of mushroom foraging with some wild mushroom social media groups having over 40,000 members seeking to have their photos of mushrooms identified by fellow foragers who are not necessarily experts. Apps and Google are not reliable to identify mushrooms accurately as they often only recognise Northern Hemisphere mushrooms and mushrooms change appearance during their growth cycle.

Finally, there are some excellent sources of scientifically-based food safety information online including our Food Safety Information Council website and government sites such as Health Direct, Better Health Channel, State food authorities, and Food Standards Australia New Zealand, ’  A/Prof Cox concluded.

Media contact:

Lydia Buchtmann, Food Safety Information Council, 0407 626 688 or info@foodsafety.asn.au