Wild Mushrooms Legal in NC Restaurants

Alan Muskat
September 15th, 2017
updated 7/23/19

It is now legal in North Carolina for restaurants to buy and serve wild mushrooms. Many people are confused or misinformed about this. I was on the committee that came up with the new regulations. I will summarize and clarify the rules as I understand them. Note that my opinion is unofficial. The official statement can be found here.

First and foremost, pickers do not need to “get certified.” They do NOT need to take any particular course or test. South Carolina or Georgia might require this, but North Carolina does not. Anyone who tells you we do is either wrong or lying. A given restaurant is free to require a particular course or exam, but the state does not. Again, just because a course or test satisfies the state requirements doesn’t mean that it’s required, that is, that it’s the ONLY way to do this. Pickers only need to provide “a written statement made by an individual that the forager has been provided information on the elements recommended in the Conference for Food Protection Document and a list of mushrooms that person has been trained to identify” (Patrick Muse, personal communication, 6/8/18). That means you need someone else to vouch for your education, not just that you know your mushrooms from experience, because those “elements” also include safe handling practices, record-keeping, avoiding contamination, and sustainable harvesting.

With each sale, you also need to fill out and include this form as well as a tag (see image of front and back below), with each sale. You can get the tags from the health department. They may ask you to describe your qualifications when you get there, but again, you do not need to take any certification course in order to receive tags.

On the form, you state your qualifications. On the tag, you write roughly where you picked the mushrooms: for example, which county they were gathered in, as well as the date(s) they were gathered and delivered.

Restaurants can buy from anyone. In other words, it is up to the restaurant who they choose to buy from. They must keep tags on the mushrooms and hang on to them for 30 days and keep the form on file for 90 days. They must also provide patrons with the common name of whatever mushroom(s) they are being served.

There are sixteen varieties that are approved for sale:

• Beefsteak (Fistulina hepatica)
• Black Trumpet (Craterellus fallax)
• Cauliflower (Sparassis crispa, herbstii, spathulata)
• Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius, lateritius, cinnabarinus, appalachiensis)
• Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus, cincinnatus, perscinus)
• Comb Tooth (Hericium ramosum)
• Hedgehog (Hydnum repandum)
• Honey (Armillaria ostoyae, mellea)
• Indigo Milk Cap (Lactarius indigo)
• Leatherback (Lactarius corrugis, volemus)
• Lions Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
• Lobster (Hypomyces lactifluorum)
• Maitake (Grifola frondosa)
• Morel (Morchella esculenta, deliciosa, elata)
• Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus)
• Puffball (Lycoperdon, Calvatia)

All other wild mushrooms remain illegal to sell to restaurants. You do not have to be qualified to sell all sixteen varieties; just the ones you are actually selling.

Note that these regulations do NOT govern selling at farmers markets or to individuals, only restaurants. They also do not address the sale of any other wild foods. As far as I know, although enforcement has typically been sporadic, for now, that all remains illegal.

There are safe and sustainable harvesting and food handling practices involved in the gathering and sale of wild mushrooms. It’s also important to where one can and cannot gather mushrooms commercially on public lands and what permits, if any, are required. Thus far, there is only one company offering a course that covers these topics, as well as mushroom identification and toxicology, in a weekend class (Mushroom Mountain). Ideally, someday we will have low or no cost public education in foraging, something that has been instituted, with success, in Finland.

Until then, there are many other ways to start gaining these skills. The key things to remember are: (1) mushroom hunting takes years to learn, and (2) you cannot learn to hunt mushrooms safely on your own, that is, from a book or website. I recommend finding a local expert to gain experience with. There may be a mushroom club in your area. For links, see here. My organization teaches foraging, including the 25 approved varieties as well as about 100 more plus 150 other wild foods. Our public programs are all by donation.

I hope this helps to clarify the rules around wild mushrooms in restaurants in North Carolina. This is a potentially green industry, a boost to the local economy, and a foundation for regional food security. Thank you for your involvement.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.

Alan Muskat, Director
No Taste Like Home

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