French poppy seed bread found to contain dangerous levels of morphine

People in France are being warned to avoid eating poppy seed bread after tests found that it contained morphine and codeine which could cause intoxication, vomiting or nausea. 

French health officials are investigating the so-far-unexplained presence of the drugs in poppy seed baguettes and ready-made sandwiches made with poppy seed bread. 

Poppy seeds do not normally contain opiates and government investigators suspect that a batch of seeds supplied to bakeries could have been contaminated from the latex sap of the plant, which contains alkaloids.

The investigators are unsure how much of the popular sandwich bread may have been contaminated. 

Jean-Claude Alvarez, head of the toxicology department at the Raymond-Poincaré hospital in Garches, near Paris, said a single sandwich made with poppy seed bread could contain as much as four mg of morphine, the equivalent of nearly half a tablet of morphine sulphate which is given to people suffering from cancer. 

“I strongly advise people not to eat poppy seed bread until we tell them otherwise,” Dr Alvarez said. “The drugs we have found (in poppy seed bread) are only supposed to be used by people in severe pain, and then on top of that there is the risk of addiction.”

“We must identify the source of the contamination and the companies that were supplied with this batch of seeds,” he said. 

Dr Alvarez added that bakery products containing the seeds which originated from a batch believed to have been contaminated have already been recalled. 

The problem was discovered after staff at several French companies tested positive for opiates in routine urine tests and were judged unfit to work.  The employees concerned were adamant, however, that they had not taken any drugs. 

Health officials then discovered that they had all eaten poppy seed bread. Tests confirmed that the seeds contained “particularly high amounts of alkaloids,” Dr Alvarez said.

He warned that the contaminated bread posed a public health risk, as drivers who consumed it were more likely to fall asleep at the wheel and that it could be especially dangerous for pregnant women, nursing mothers and children. 

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