What you need to know about mushroom poisoning

When a family lunch led to multiple deaths, it brought to light the potential toxicity of a popular ingredient.

Erin Patterson, the woman at the centre of the infamous mushroom lunch, has now been arrested and charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder.

On July 29, 2023, Ms Patterson hosted her former in-laws Don and Gail Patterson and local pastor and his wife (also Gail’s sister), Ian and Heather Wilkinson at her Leongatha home. Ms Patterson served them lunch during the visit, and shortly afterwards, all four guests fell ill and were taken to hospital.

On August 4, Gail Patterson and Heather Wilkinson died while still in hospital. The next day, on August 5, Don Patterson also died in hospital.

Soon after, on August 6, Victorian health authorities announced that the three died from suspected Death Cap mushroom poisoning; the official cause of death has not yet been confirmed though.

An investigation was quickly launched but Ms Patterson continually maintained that she did not intentionally poison her guests. She told reporters, “I didn’t do anything, I loved them.”


In mid-August, as a part of the investigation, Ms Patterson was questioned by police. She said in a statement that she cooked a beef Wellington that had mushrooms in it for lunch that day.

Ms Patterson claimed she bought the mix of mushrooms she used in the dish at a supermarket and an Asian grocery store. She also said she felt unwell after the meal too.

On September 23, Ian Wilkinson was released from hospital, where he had previously been in a critical condition.

And on November 2, Ms Patterson was arrested and charged with three counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder.

Three of the murder charges and two of the attempted murder charges relate to the mushroom lunch, but the remaining three attempted murder charges relate to historical incidents against a 48-year-old Korumburra man – believed to be Patterson’s estranged husband Simon Patterson, who was invited to the lunch but declined at the last minute.

When Ms Patterson was charged, Detective Inspector Dean Thomas said: “Today’s charges are just the next step in what has been an incredibly complex, methodical and thorough investigation by homicide squad detectives.

“I know that people will no doubt have many unanswered questions about this matter, however I urge people to be especially mindful of unnecessary speculation and not sharing misinformation,” he continued.

“Our thoughts today are with the families of those impacted and we will continue to ensure they are provided with all the necessary support they need.”

What are the risks of mushroom poisoning?

Mushroom poisoning is somewhat common; especially mushroom poisoning caused by the Death Cap mushroom.

In fact, Death Caps are responsible for about 90 per cent of mushroom-related deaths globally.

What is the timeline of mushroom poisoning?

Mushroom poisoning can vary in its timeline depending on the type of mushroom ingested.

Symptoms can appear within hours or may take several days to manifest. In some cases, mild symptoms can resolve on their own, while severe cases may require immediate medical attention.

To stay safe, it’s crucial to be cautious and identify mushrooms accurately before consumption.

How long does mushroom poisoning last for?

The duration of mushroom poisoning can range from a few hours to several days, depending on the severity of the poisoning and the specific toxins involved. Mild cases may result in nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea, which typically subside within a day or two.

In contrast, severe cases involving highly toxic mushrooms can lead to organ damage and can be life-threatening, potentially requiring extended hospitalisation and medical treatment.

type of mushroom

What to do after eating a poisonous mushroom?

If you suspect you or someone has ingested a poisonous mushroom, it’s essential to seek immediate medical attention. Do not wait for symptoms to worsen.

In the meantime, try to identify the mushroom or keep a sample for later identification, as this can help medical professionals provide appropriate treatment.

Avoid inducing vomiting unless instructed to do so by a healthcare professional. Early medical intervention is crucial in cases of mushroom poisoning.

What is the most poisonous mushroom in Australia?

The ‘Death Cap’ mushroom (Amanita phalloides) is the most poisonous mushroom, and while not native in Australia, they can be found in Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory.

Death Caps contain potent toxins known as amatoxins, which can cause severe liver and kidney damage, leading to organ failure and death if left untreated.

The Death Cap mushroom is responsible for the majority of mushroom poisoning cases in the country and is often mistaken for edible varieties.

To prevent poisoning, it is essential to be well-informed about the dangerous species and to avoid foraging for wild mushrooms without expert knowledge.

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