In December 2022, around 200 people were poisoned by eating their greens. The hallucinogenic spinach had been contaminated with a weed, a species of nightshade commonly known as thornapple or jimsonweed.
The spinach, grown by Riviera Farms on a single farm in Victoria, made its way into a number of pre-packaged salad products sold by major grocery chains including Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and Costco. Aside from the Riviera-branded baby spinach in Costco, the offending leaves mostly turned up in salad mixes, pre-prepared salad bowls and stir-fry mixes.
Cases of poisoning were reported in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, with many people presenting to hospitals. The symptoms included delirium or confusion, hallucinations, dilated pupils, rapid heartbeat, flushed face, blurred vision and dry mouth and skin. Riviera Farms issued a notice that they were working with their customers and the regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, to issue a recall on all the affected products. In a statement, Riviera said:
Riviera Farms has been in the business of providing fresh food since the 1880s and have been saddened by this incident, which is our first in our long history of providing fresh food products.
We continue to work pro-actively and transparently with our customers and regulators on this issue.
The advice from Food Standards Australia New Zealand is that “Consumers should not eat this product and should return the products to the place of purchase for a full refund. Any consumers concerned about their health should seek medical advice.”
There was speculation that heavy rain and floods in the preceding months had spread weed seeds, contaminating the crop. Owing to the early harvesting of the baby greens, it was difficult to distinguish the offending leaves from the spinach.
The Guardian reported that ‘authorities’ were urging people not to seek out the hallucinogenic spinach in search of a recreational high. My local greengrocer displayed a notice above their loose baby spinach assuring customers that “Our Bacchus Marsh spinach is safe to eat and makes a great addition to summer salads”.
Vegetable growers were keen to point out that this was an isolated incident confined to a single farm and it shouldn’t deter people from getting their five servings of veggies a day.