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State Attorneys General Urge Congress to Ban Unwashed Poppy Seeds, Here’s Why.

Posted in Food Policy,Our Blog on March 5, 2024

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin is among 12 other state attorneys general urging the United States Congress to ban unwashed poppy seeds. These include Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The representatives cite the potential lethality of such products sold to the public.

This action requires cooperation with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and development of standards and enforcement procedures to make this happen.

What is the Fuss About Unwashed Poppy Seeds?

There is nothing inherently wrong with poppy seeds. They can be found in a variety of culinary fare. From sweet to savory. Bagels, buns, cakes, and more use poppy seeds to add a pop of texture and flavor.

Most poppy seeds sold on the market are washed and dried. This is not what these attorneys general are worried about.

So what is all the fuss about?



The seed itself contains negligible amounts of opiates like morphine, codeine, and thebaine. The mind-altering opium alkaloids are found, instead, in the poppy latex. This is the milky white fluid that seeps from the pod when it is cut.

Unwashed poppy seeds pose a danger to the user as it can result in unpredictable outcomes, even death; whether used along or in combination with other drugs.

The opium epidemic is bad enough as it is. Limiting the raw ingredients on the open market may reduce the number of deaths and long-term illness access to these harmful products can cause.

Fatalities Linked to Contaminated, Unwashed Poppy Seeds

The reason for this requested legislation, called the Stephen Hacala Poppy Seed Safety Act, was named after 24 year old Stephen Hacala who died of a morphine overdose from drinking tea made with contaminated poppy seeds.

According to The Center for Science in the Public Interest, at least 20 deaths have been linked to contaminated poppy seeds since 2015.

This act is meant to reduce that number. Bad actors will always be there, so this isn’t a surefire way of ending the opiate crisis. It will, however, reduce access and potential accidental overdoses.

What Does the Stephen Hacala Poppy Seed Safety Act Entail?

This Stephen Hacala Poppy Seed Safety Act would add opiate standards on poppy seeds for public sale to the FDA’s umbrella of reach. This Act would give a deadline of two years for the organization to develop standards and set limits on how much opiate contamination could be found in poppy seeds sold to the public. The agency would then enforce these thresholds, just as they would for any other standard involving their reach.

According to reports, this request was made by Congress in 2021, however the FDA has not completed the task.

This new legislation would place urgency on these actions.

Are People Using Unwashed Poppy Seeds on Purpose?

Are people using unwashed poppy seeds on purpose? Or are they receiving seemingly benign ingredients?

It is likely a little bit of both, with an emphasis on the former.

In some cases, harvesters are purposefully manipulating the opium pods to increase the opioid strength in the seeds.

This is achieved by making cuts in the opium pods before they ripen. This allows the latex to seep into the seed coats.

The opium alkaloid is later extracted by some of the most mundane methods.

Adding hot water and making a tea.

This tea can contain sufficient amounts of the alkaloids, the same ones found in medicinal opiates (e.g., morphine and codeine), to produce psychoactive effects.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is aware of these dangers and even issued a warning in 2019 about the dangers of unwashed poppy seeds. “Some users boil the seeds to produce a tea, which is consumed for the purposes of perceived ‘natural’ pain relief,” the DEA said in a written statement. In addition to the pain relief home remedy, others use the tea to get high, it added.

DEA Claims Unwashed Poppy Seeds Falls Under the Controlled Substances Act

While poppy seeds are not classified as Schedule II controlled substances, the DEA claims that the presence of opioids in contaminated poppy seeds still falls under the Controlled Substances Act.

In fact, prosecutions involving that stance have happened before. Despite this, distribution of contaminated, unwashed poppy seeds continues in the marketplace.

Tulsa Couple Indicted for Drug Conspiracy Involving Unwashed Poppy Seeds

A recent case involves a couple operating a bakery supply store in Tulsa, Oklahoma called Lone Goose Bakery.

The couple purchased bulk quantities of unprocessed poppy seeds coated with opium latex, repackaged the seeds, and sold them along with material and video instructing their use – including making a tea with them for medicinal use. Primarily online.

This tea was promoted to help reduce pain and anxiety, improve sleep, lower blood pressure, and even act as an anti-diarrheal with beneficial vitamins and minerals. This took place between June 2017 through November 2020.

According to the indictment, a single dose of poppy seed tea made with Lone Goose Bakery unprocessed poppy seeds could “expose a consumer [with] up to approximately 1,200 milligrams of morphine.”

If convicted, the couple faces life in prison.

Does this Mean You Should Avoid Poppy Seeds?

So, what does this mean for the consumer? Should you avoid all things poppy seed?

No. That isn’t necessary. Most poppy seeds for culinary use are appropriately processed and washed.

It would be a good idea, however, to avoid those marketed as home remedies and for pain relief. Odds are, they are intentionally unwashed and potentially contaminated with opium latex.

Want to Know More About Food Safety in the News?

If you’d like to know more about food safety in the news, like Unwashed Poppy Seeds, check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)