“Honey, I think I’ve poisoned the kids.”

You’d expect most things you buy from a supermarket, especially Tesco, to be safe, wouldn’t you? We all accept that sometimes things can be poorly kept or cooked, leading to food poisoning, but that’s usually our own fault.

 

Trust is essential for supermarkets, especially as they do battle with each other, so I am amazed that Tesco have not responded to a serious concern about them selling potentially poisonous wild mushrooms.

 

Especially as the victim has appeared on BBC’s Watchdog several time commenting on how dumb brands can be. It leaves me thinking, “are they putting profits before people’s health and wellbeing?” or is it simply a case of people not thinking? Either way it’s a potential time bomb at a sensitive time fro Tesco.

 

It’s not been a good year for the giant, they are loosing share to others and they’ve had to close their US chain Fresh ‘n’ Easy after massive losses. After a dismal year, their shares have fallen 18 per cent, worse than almost any other large global chain. There seems to be lack of vision and the FT has been less than supportive of its CEO Philip Clarke (who replaced Sir Terry Leahy) referring to him as ‘dithering”.

 

In desperation it has changed its ad agency (I think its problems are little bigger than that), is spending £1bn refurbishing its stores, cutting prices and cutting growth plans (Leahy was big on growth), so no new stores, which is good news for small independent shops on our high streets.

 

It’s also stuck now between off line and online, having invested millions on Tesco Direct, with questions over whether it can make the same margins on food due to delivery costs.

 

It has also been reported that to expand its overseas operations they are bidding against Walmart for the Turkish supermarket chain Migros.

 

But in the world of retail it only takes one bad story to undermine consumer confidence and suddenly millions get wiped off your share price.

 

So faced with a potential time bomb of negative publicity you’d thought someone at Tesco would be asking the question, “are we really sure these wild mushrooms are safe?”

 

This is just the kind of story BBC’s Watchdog, the Sun, the Guardian and the Daily Mail love. Great big brand bashing, human concern and a company that hasn’t bothered to respond properly. And if this hits the big media it goes viral on social media. Forget the term, “all publicity is good publicity, “ this is the exception.

 

What’s the story?

 

For those foodies like me, we’ve seen a wider range of exotic mushrooms being sold in the shops. Most of theses are cultivated on farms. But Tesco have taken the brave, if not suicidal approach, of selling wild picked mushrooms from Bulgaria, namely the “Trompette des Morts”, translated this means “Trumpet of Death”. Speaks for itself!

 

The problem with wild mushroom is that many types come in two forms – poisonous (false) and non-poisonous. Trouble is, they often look exactly the same, can grow next to each other, and even experts get it wrong. Sometimes tragically.

 

So my advice, as a former wild mushroom picker (and no I never picked the magic ones as they mess your brain cells up long term) is don’t, unless you stick to ones that have no false versions like puffballs.

 

Tesco pay people in Bulgaria to pick theses from woodlands and hillsides. Umm? They claim they are “experienced”. In mushroom picking anything less than “expert” is dubious. Add to that the fact we all know supermarkets squeeze suppliers so hard and demands so much, I’m speculating that the local chap pays anyone he can get to pick as many as they can.

 

“Err Jose, ever picked a wild mushroom?” “Sure Rubin.” ” Good, you’ve got a job, go fill this and I’ll give you two euros per basket.”  “Sure Rubin, you said pick those little grey ones that look like trumpets.”

 

So why am I questioning Tesco’s supply chain?

 

It’s because I got suspected mushroom poisoning from eating a packet. Of course Tesco claim they’ve had no other complaints, but who would suspect? It’s only due to two factors – I only cooked up mushrooms for lunch (so there was no other food I can blame) and I know the symptoms having been a mushroom picker. Most of us would cook them with meat and probably blame the meat. I’ve been testing this theory and my quick research revealed exactly that, people would blame the meat.

 

Now it is almost impossible to prove any food made you ill, as you’ve probably eaten it all, even with circumstantial evidence supporting the idea, but that’s not the issue. The real issue is, when experts will tell you how easy it is to pick false ones, how safe are the mushrooms? Would Clarke happily feed his kids them? That would make a good TV challenge on Watchdog.

 

Tesco’s response to a Facebook comment about the mushrooms poisoning me was, “We’re sorry you feel unwell, please take the packet back and get a refund if you aren’t happy with the product.”

 

I called Tesco the day after and was met with little concern. Finally after applying pressure I got a call back, they weren’t worried about me but wanted the packet back. At least the Food Standards Agency was concerned.

 

Two weeks later I got all the same symptoms again (these toxins can easily stay in the system for months) and had to undergo blood testes and examinations in hospital to see if I’d under gone any damage to my kidneys, liver and other parts. The medic who deals with poisons agreed that this looked very much like mushroom poisoning and was deeply concerned. He told me that if I got the symptoms again I was to call 999 and ask the ambulance to take me to the nearest poisons unit. Wow, that was comforting! He was equally concerned that Tesco was selling wild mushrooms.

 

Meanwhile Tesco wrote me an automatic, and somewhat patronising, note offering me a £15 voucher as a sign of goodwill and saying they test for microbiological quality – not the same as testing to see if they are toxic guys – so they obviously didn’t read my letter properly.

 

If I had found broken glass in a bottle of baby food I would expect any supermarket to react with vigor and be cautious, but that’s something they can grasp. But as few people know much about mushrooms (especially at Tesco) I guess this just isn’t on their radar. So what needs to happen before it does?

 

Well let’s just hope the title of this blog doesn’t come true. Meanwhile, a message to all you foodies out there, eat with caution!

 

 

#tescowildmushrooms

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