Italy recalls frozen spinach feared to contain hallucinogenic mandrake

Italy’s Health Ministry has ordered the recall of a batch of frozen spinach after several people who ate it suffered signs of mandrake poisoning.

Italy recalls frozen spinach feared to contain hallucinogenic mandrake
Mandrake growing in Sicily. Photo: tato grasso/Wikimedia Commons

A family of four in Milan sought emergency treatment for “mental confusion and amnesia” on September 30th, reported Italian news agency Ansa, after each of them had eaten frozen spinach produced by French company Bonduelle.

Their symptoms were found to be consistent with ingesting mandrake, a poisonous plant with hallucinogenic properties. Native to the Mediterranean region, it can potentially sprout up amongst food crops – which is how, it is feared, its leaves may have made their way into packs of spinach. 

The scare prompted the Italian Health Ministry to issue a nationwide recall for the batch in question, lot 15986504-7222 45M63 of Bonduelle’s 750g packs of Spinaci Millefoglie, with the expiration date 8/2019. 

While stressing that none of its products had been confirmed to be contaminated, Bonduelle said it would recall four other batches of frozen spinach as a precaution. 

They will be taken off sale in supermarkets and removed from future distribution, the company said. Any consumers who have already bought one of the packs are advised not to eat them.

Folio 90 from the Naples Dioscurides, a 7th century manuscript of Dioscurides' De Materia Medica

Mandrake plants have long been the subject of legend, including the belief that their roots scream when they are dug up. Photo: De Materia Medica by Dioscurides in the Biblioteca Nazionale of Naples, via Wikimedia Commons.

The lots affected are: 15986504, 15986506, 15995174 and 16008520, all with the expiration date 8/2019.

If eaten mandrake plants can cause hallucinations, blurred vision, headaches, vomiting and raised heart rate, among other symptoms. They were nonetheless used in traditional medicine for centuries for their supposed abilities to relieve pain and put people to sleep.


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Antipasto to amaro: What to expect from every step of an Italian dinner

Whether you're going out to dinner in Italy or have been invited to over to a friend or extended family member's home, here's what to expect from an Italian meal.

Antipasto to amaro: What to expect from every step of an Italian dinner

More humble and less fussy than French cuisine, Italy’s cucina povera (literally, ‘kitchen of the poor’) tradition employs minimal ingredients, prioritising fresh local produce over complex techniques.

But while it might not be as elaborate and formal as its Gallic counterpart, an Italian dinner is still traditionally a multi-course affair, often stretching over several leisurely hours and involving various stages.

If you’re invited into an Italian home for lunch or dinner, you’re likely to find it a fairly relaxed occasion that may include all or just some of the courses listed below – though you can expect it to be lengthy and copious.

As in many other countries, it’s polite in Italy to bring a bottle of wine or dessert to dinner in someone’s house; if in doubt, ask what your hosts would like.

Without further ado, here’s what you can expect from a full Italian dinner.


The antipasto (‘before-meal’) is the starter course.

Its remit is pretty broad, and might include anything from bruschetta to salad to a cheese or meat platter. If you’re in someone’s home, you might be served olives or savoury snacks such as taralli.

While you’ve probably heard of the tradition of the pre-dinner aperitivo drink and snack, this is separate from the dinner itself, and usually takes place in bars or cafes rather than in restaurants or homes.

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Primo piatto

A primo is a carb-based dish: almost always pasta, though it could also be risotto, gnocchi or polenta.

In line with the cucina povera, which describes the make-do cooking of poverty-stricken rural Italy in decades gone by, this dish serves to fill the diner up before moving on to a smaller (more expensive) protein course.

Because of this, while you might find small amounts of meat or fish in Italian primi in the form of guanciale in your carbonara or minced beef in your ragù sauce, you won’t be served large quantities of meat with your primo.

Polpette, or meatballs, are a separate second course, and you’ll never come across a chicken-based pasta dish in Italy.

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Secondo piatto

The secondo is, as its name suggests, your second main dish – usually meat or fish, though most restaurants will offer at least one vegetarian option in the form of something like an aubergine parmigiana.

If you want to round it out, you can order one or more contorni – side plates of salad or vegetables.

Italian restaurants will provide both primo and secondo options, but these days most places won’t expect you to order both, and it’s fine for one person to order a primo and the other a secondo to arrive at the same time.


Once the secondo is over, it’s time for dessert.

The type of dolce you’re offered will likely vary depending on region, but the list commonly includes cantucci biscuits to be dipped in vin santo dessert wine, panna cotta, a crostata tart, and, of course, tiramisù.

If you’ve got a hankering for gelato, you’re probably best off heading out to one of the many gelaterie that populate the piazzas and streets Italian towns, where you’ll have access to a wide range of flavours.

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Next comes the caffè, which in Italy is an espresso – definitely not a cappuccino or caffè latte, which are strictly breakfast drinks, though you might get away with asking for a splash of milk and making yours a caffè macchiato.

It might seem unwise to consume caffeine at the end of the evening, but you can always order a caffè decaffeinato (usually shortened to deca), and its effects are at any rate tempered by what follows:


At the very end of the night, you’ll likely be offered a bitter amaro liqueur or some other spirit-based digestivo (some restaurants will bring these for free along with the bill).

This could also be a distilled liquor grappa, or if you’re further south, a sweet limoncello.

Taken straight after or along with your coffee, these after-dinner drinks are known in Italy as an ammazzacaffè – literally, a coffee-killer, for its dampening effect on the caffeine.

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of an Italian meal! Now you just have to roll yourself off your chair or sofa and make your way home, where you’ll spend a good portion of the following day digesting your meal.