Maine CDC Press Release

May 19, 2008

Maine CDC Emphasizes Safe Prep and Cooking of Fiddleheads, Especially in Flooded Northern Maine

For More Information, please contact:
Geoffrey A. Beckett, PA-C, MPH
Assistant State Epidemiologist
Maine DHHS/Center for Disease Control
Tel: (207) 287-2770

AUGUSTA - As fiddleheads come into season in northern Aroostook County, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an Office of the Department of Health and Human Services, reminds consumers that it is important to thoroughly wash all fiddleheads after harvesting and to thoroughly cook them by boiling for 10 minutes or steaming for 20 minutes.

“These precautions should always be taken before consuming any fiddleheads, but they may be especially important in areas affected by the recent flooding in the St. John River Valley,” said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, Director of the MeCDC. “We are really talking about common-sense precautions,” Dr. Mills said. “Flood waters can become contaminated with bacteria and with fuel or other chemicals. If you are harvesting in the flood zone, avoid any fiddleheads that are obviously contaminated and take the time to wash all fiddleheads carefully. After that, do what is always recommended in preparing fiddleheads: boil them for 10 minutes or steam them for at least 20 minutes”.

Fresh fiddleheads are a delicacy that has long been enjoyed by Maine residents and visitors for the duration of their short season in the late spring. During the 1990s, several outbreaks of vomiting and diarrhea associated with eating raw or lightly-cooked fiddleheads were reported in Canada and New York. Since that time, food safety experts have recommended that fiddleheads always be washed thoroughly and cooked well.

“The reminder we are sending out today to harvesters in northern Maine is a bit of a different twist to these longstanding recommendations,” Dr. Mills said. “We are saying to continue to take the usual precautions and to be especially mindful of them when you are harvesting in the flood zone.” She added that there have been no reports of any illnesses associated with fiddleheads in Aroostook County this year.

Consumers can find more information on how to safely enjoy fiddleheads from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension (http://www.umext.maine.edu/onlinepubs/htmpubs/4198.htm). Persons who believe that they may have become ill as a result of eating fiddleheads should call the Maine CDC at 1-800-821-5821.