Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Forager Rick Tibbetts, right, sells wild matsutake mushrooms to Joe Fournier of Rosemont Market, who is holding cultivated mushrooms. Fournier, a supporter of accountable foraging, only buys from insured suppliers.

 

December 17, 2012

Safety of wild mushrooms put off as law gets moldy

Standards for foragers, enacted in April, have yet to be implemented as parties debate training and fees.

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

Today's poll: Mushroom laws

Should Maine implement a law requiring certification of wild-mushroom foragers who sell to restaurants?

Yes

No

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The Maine Mycological Association is still debating whether its members will agree to be part of the committee because of concern over the reduced fee, according to Marley.

The person charged with overseeing the certification program had not heard there was potential reluctance among needed committee members until contacted by a reporter.

"We're not going to have a committee, if that's the case,' said Lisa Roy, program manager for the Health Inspection Program at DHHS. "It is too bad, because we've put a lot of hard work into it."

The task force met for three years before submitting draft legislation.

HIGH PRICE, HIGH RISK

In addition to problems caused by the reduced fee, some chefs feel the law doesn't have enough teeth to protect public health.

"I don't buy (mushrooms) from anyone who doesn't have a substantial insurance policy," said Joe Fournier, agricultural coordinator for Rosemont Market, who buys wild mushrooms for the company's four stores. "I'm not going to buy from anyone off the street."

That doesn't stop people from trying. Fournier said that "in the spring and fall, there's anywhere from six to 12 people coming in our back door" trying to sell wild mushrooms.

He supports Tibbetts' accountable-foraging proposal.

The increasing number of amateur mushroom foragers approaching restaurants and retailers reflects the wholesale price of wild mushrooms and the dining public's desire for more diverse foods.

Tibbetts, who carries liability insurance, said chicken of the woods mushrooms can sell for up to $12.50 a pound wholesale, while matsutakes can sell for as high as $20 a pound.

"You can make $1,000 a day mushrooming if you're good at it," Tibbetts said. "But (amateur foragers) won't bother to spend $700 to get insurance to protect people."

Evans, of Duckfat, said the amateur foragers often try to underprice their mushrooms in order to sell them to unsuspecting chefs.

"Ten years ago, Sam Hayward (chef/owner of Fore Street) and myself and a couple other restaurants were the only ones using (wild mushrooms)," Evans said. "Now any restaurant seems to be able to afford them and buy them."

Tibbetts said if certified foragers aren't required to carry liability insurance, "the restaurant will take the hit" should someone get poisoned.

But not all chefs are worried about potential liability. Chef David Ross, who owns 50 Local in Kennebunk and often forages for mushrooms himself, doesn't agree that foragers should be required to carry liability insurance.

"If the insurance becomes too expensive and they can't service us or sell us mushrooms, that would be unfortunate," Ross said.

He expressed a similar concern about the cost of the certification fee, but said he feels $75 is reasonable.

Roy, with DHHS, said state law prohibits lawmakers from requiring businesses to carry liability insurance.

However, Doug Dunbar, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, said "(t)here is no law prohibiting a requirement for liability insurance, although occupations generally do not require liability insurance." He said it is more common for a liability insurance requirement to be written into business contracts.

Still, other chefs want to see foragers held accountable for what they sell.

"If you're going to make a living off foraging mushrooms, you should carry liability insurance just like restaurants have to if they serve liquor," said chef Jeff Landry, who owns The Farmer's Table in Portland and serves on the board of the Maine Restaurant Association.

At the same time, Landry feels the $20 fee is too low and "gives everybody license to head out to the woods and grab whatever they want."

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

akamila@pressherald.com

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

 

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Today's poll: Mushroom laws

Should Maine implement a law requiring certification of wild-mushroom foragers who sell to restaurants?

Yes

No

View Results