Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) are reminding Canadians that fresh fiddleheads should be properly cooked before being consumed.
Fiddleheads are the curled, edible shoots of the ostrich fern. They are collected in the wild and sold as a seasonal vegetable in stores and outdoor markets.
There have been cases of illnesses in Canada and the U.S. associated with eating fiddleheads. Scientists believe that the most likely cause for these illnesses is an unidentified natural toxin in fiddleheads.
Fiddleheads should never be eaten raw.
Health Canada and CFIA recommends that fresh fiddleheads be washed several times in fresh cold water. Remove as much of the brown husk as possible from the fiddleheads. They should then be cooked in boiling water for 15 minutes or steamed for 10 to 12 minutes until tender. Water used for boiling or steaming fiddleheads should be discarded as it may contain the toxin. Fiddleheads should also be boiled or steamed prior to sauteing, frying or baking.
Symptoms of illness usually begin 30 minutes to 12 hours after eating raw or undercooked fiddleheads, and may include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and headaches. Illness generally lasts less than 24 hours. This can result in dehydration, particularly among the elderly and in infants. There have been no reported cases of illness connected with eating fully cooked fiddleheads.
Anyone experiencing the above symptoms after consuming fiddleheads should seek the advice of a health care professional and contact their local public health unit.
It is estimated that there are approximately 11 million cases of food-related illnesses in Canada every year. Many of these illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques.