Foraging for mushrooms in the woods is fun and all, until you accidentally ingest a poisonous mushroom and need an emergency trip to the hospital. According to the Mycological Association, of the 10,000 different large fungi in North America, fewer than 100 are “dangerously poisonous,” but those can prove fatal to both humans and animals. To help identify toxic mushrooms, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has developed a portable test strip that can help you quickly determine a mushroom’s safety.
The strip detects amanitin toxins in a tiny piece of a mushroom and can also be used to test the urine of a human or dog after consuming a potentially dangerous mushroom. A positive or negative result can be determined within 10 minutes.
According to ARS microbiologist Candace Bever, “We developed the test primarily for mushrooms as food products. Serendipitously, it was sensitive enough to also detect the toxin in urine. Our hope is that doctors and veterinarians will be able to quickly and confidently identify amatoxin poisoning rather than having to clinically eliminate other suspected gastrointestinal diseases first.”
But the method isn’t foolproof. The test strip only identifies the presence or absence of amanitin toxins but does not detect other toxins that can cause serious illness. Therefore, it cannot solely determine if a mushroom is safe to eat or not.
A company called Amatoxtest is currently in the process of licensing the technology, with the goal of making the test strips available to the public in late 2020.