Killer Food - Pufferfish

Killer Food to Keep Off the Dinner Table

Killer Food to Avoid

Toxic poisons found in killer foodWe all know of the dangers posed by food borne illnesses such as salmonella, listeria and e-coli. However, poisoning can also happen due to accidental ingestion of killer food that contains naturally occurring toxins.

We know this as chemical food poisoning and it leads to acute poisoning or long-term diseases. On the milder end of the scale, sufferers experience vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. More serious symptoms of chemical food poisoning include liver failure, coma and death.

Here’s the lowdown on the most common offenders and how you can avoid falling victim to killer food.


Probably the most widely known killer food world-wide is mushrooms.  Mushroom poisoning is one of the most common causes of chemical food poisoning. 3% of identified mushroom species are poisonous, and with amateur mushroom picking becoming more popular among outdoor recreation fans, cases of mushroom poisoning are on the rise.

Killer Food: Spring Mushroom [CC BY-SA 3.0 us], via Wikimedia Commons
With so many classes of mushrooms, distinguishing between poisonous and non-poisonous species is difficult.  Mildly poisonous mushrooms cause vomiting and abdominal pain that usually clears up within 24 hours.  Moderately poisonous species cause kidney failure, liver failure and death.

The Death Cap mushroom (Amanita Phalloides) is responsible for the most mushroom poisonings in the world.  

Avoid mushroom poisoning by familiarizing yourself with the different mushroom species and never eating a mushroom that you are unsure of.


Considered a culinary delicacy in Japan, the pufferfish contains tetrodotoxin, which is one of the most toxic poisons that occurs naturally. Chefs need to be specially licensed and trained to cut the fish in a way that they remove the most toxic parts of it.

Killer Food: Pufferfish
Brocken Inaglory [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Symptoms of pufferfish poisoning begin within 45 minutes. It starts with facial tingling, nausea and vomiting. More severe cases can experience paralysis, respiratory failure and death.

There is no known antidote to pufferfish poisoning. Not eating it is the obvious way to avoid poisoning, but if you are intent on trying it, at least make sure that the chef knows what he is doing!

Castor Beans

Castor beans contain ricin, which is a highly toxic poison. Ricin has been used historically by spies and terrorists for assassination attempts. Castor beans have a very tough shell and the beans must be chewed or crushed to release the ricin.

Killer Food: Castor Beans
By Unknown, Public Domain, Link

Poisoning from castor beans causes severe vomiting and diarrhea, which may develop into seizures, coma and death. Doctors sometimes attempt to flush the beans from the stomach and intestines before they are absorbed, but there is no known antidote.

Due to the risk of poisoning, if you keep castor bean plants you should not let them seed or flower.

Rhubarb Leaves

Everybody loves grandma’s rhubarb pie, so you may be surprised to learn that parts of the rhubarb plant are highly toxic. Rhubarb stalk is a common ingredient in desserts but the leaf of the plant (the part that grows above the ground) contains a large amount of oxalic acid.

Killer Food: Rhubarb Leaves
By RhubarbFarmerOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Symptoms of rhubarb poisoning include burning eyes and throat, respiratory difficulty, stomach pain and diarrhea, kidney stones, seizures and coma. There have been reports of death occurring in severe cases.

Avoid rhubarb poisoning by not ingesting the leaves of the plant. If you grow rhubarb, be sure to dispose of the leaves safely so that they do not pose any threat to wildlife and small children.