Food poisoning is one of those awful events that range from being a mild inconvenience, to outright fatal. Many among us have had the misfortune of ingesting something that was undercooked, cross-contaminated, or just plain not right; that’s why watching out for recall notices is so important. The importance of safe ingredients is even more important when working with them raw, such as in a dish like a sushi roll. As a group of diners in Montana found out, a certain “special roll” was unique for all the wrong reasons.
On April 17th, 2023, Dave’s Sushi n Bozeman, Montana served a special sushi roll, containing a combination of salmon and morel mushrooms. A number of diners sampled the dish, and a number of them became violently ill, in shockingly quick fashion. One of these diners, Donna Ventura, collapsed in her home, and died days later at the hospital from multiple organ failure. A sadly similar fate befell William Lewis who also dined at the restaurant on Monday, and died the next day. Thirty other illnesses were reported alongside the two fatalities.
Dave’s Sushi has been working in cooperation with investigators to find out what happened, with the leading theory being the morel mushrooms. True morels, considered an expensive and flavorful type of mushroom, are frequently used in cooking and considered safe to eat when prepared properly. Those savvy enough about poisonings probably know about the dangers that can be inherent in eating the wrong mushrooms, and indeed morels do have a number of poisonous look alikes. However, according to Dave’s Sushi, their mushrooms are from a cultured importer from China and obtained through a distributor in California.
As to be expected after a situation like this, the restaurant was temporarily closed, and is set to reopen on May 15th. One of the issues facing Dave’s Sushi is if the problem was the morel mushrooms, then why are there no other reports of morel poisonings from other locations that the mushrooms were distributed to? Did the restaurant just get a bad batch themselves or was there a problem at the location that resulted in contamination of some kind? The location did have some quality fails in health and safety inspections in April; the first the restaurant had received in 8 years. Whether these could’ve been tied to the sushi roll incident is currently unknown.
At the very least, Dave’s Sushi is reportedly doing everything they can to find out what caused this deadly situation to unfold. Food preparation and restaurant safety is incredibly important. When we go out to eat, we’re putting our health in the hands of others. Our well-being is in the hands of so many, from the source of the food, to the distributors, to the chefs, to the wait staff. Cases of this magnitude are fortunately rare but finding out the cause can potentially prevent incidents like this from happening again elsewhere.