Floods and morel hunting, oh my!

Lately, the general public has reached out to us was wondering: does the morel mushroom hunting season have any precautions this year, due to flooding and devastation in Iowa?

Regardless of the flood, I always recommend caution. Avoid hunting in areas where 1) animals have perished (for example fish mortality or where other animals had died), 2) avoid harvesting specimens nearby where fecal droppings are present; 3) avoid sites where potential chemical contaminants (pesticides, heavy metals, etc.) may be present or were washed off, particularly this year due to flooding waters.

A picture showing a morel mushroom with a slimy exterior and is decomposing
Avoid specimens with slime or rotting areas, discoloration and/or evidence of decay.

Hunter and consumer awareness is important, and there are always risks associated with consuming wild morel mushrooms. At the morel certification class every year we discuss proper identification, distinguishing true from false morels, best harvesting practices, including how to avoid any potential post-harvest contamination. All recommendations from food safety at ISU apply to minimize the risk of food borne illnesses, see the food safety page. 

Briefly, pick only intact, true morel specimens, free from any worms, slime or rotten areas, discolored or with evidence of decay. Harvest above the soil level to avoid soil or debris. Pack specimens individually in wax or paper bags, avoid plastic bags and any other packing materials and storage practices conducive to humidity and rots caused by bacteria and fungi. Refrigerate as soon as possible.

Morel mushrooms should be thoroughly cooked, not mixed with alcohol, and even though morels are considered safe to eat, in occasion may cause allergic reactions or other effects that vary from person to person. For example, people with suppressed or compromised immune systems, taking certain medications or suffering from medical conditions that may cause the human immune system to be weak (immunosuppression), or other digestive system conditions that may be at risk of adverse effects. See the page Who is at risk?.

For more information on morel mushrooms see the publication “Morels, False Morels and Other Cup Fungi,” free to download at the extension store.  

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Yard and Garden, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on April 12, 2019. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.