Bistro closed after deadly mushroom meal

BIANCA HALL
Last updated 19:03 06/01/2012
Death cap mushrooms
Australian Botanical Society
KILLER MEAL: Two people have died in a Sydney hospital after eating death cap mushrooms.

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The ACT's chief health officer has confirmed the bistro where a deadly mushroom dish was cooked on New Year's Eve would remain closed and would need to be inspected before it was allowed to reopen.

The Chinese restaurant, located in the Harmonie German Club in Narranbundah, had been due to reopen after the Christmas break on Wednesday night, just hours before management learnt of the tragic mistake, in which two people died and two others were taken to hospital after eating the dish laced with death cap mushrooms.

Canberra health authorities last night confirmed the meal was prepared in a restaurant kitchen.

Acting ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Andrew Pengilly said that, while the bistro had closed voluntarily, ACT Health had asked for it to remain shut until an inspection could be carried out.

Last night, a sign on the door of the restaurant, which is run by an independent operator within the club, said the chef "made a deadly mistake".

The sign said that it was informing the community with the "greatest regret" that chef Liu Jun and kitchen hand Tsou Hsiang "made a deadly mistake and ate some mushroom (death caps) that they mistook for Chinese straw mushrooms".

It was unclear who had posted the note, but Harmonie German Club secretary Susan Davidson confirmed it had not come from the club nor the independent operator of the restaurant.

Inside, the remains of a meal sat on a table next to a counter.

Mr Liu, 38, who made the meal at the bistro, and Ms Tsou, 52, died from liver failure in Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital while waiting for transplants.

Mystery surrounds another man, 51, who remains in the hospital in a stable condition with death cap poisoning.

ACT Health initially said this man was part of the same group, but ACT police said this was not the case.

It emerged today that a fourth man in his 30s, who survived eating the meal laced with the deadly mushrooms and left hospital on Tuesday, has a pregnant wife.

Health authorities inspected the restaurant yesterday to ensure that no mushrooms remained on site. They said there was no risk of exposure to the public.

Friends of the chef, who had spent several years working in Australia, said he was obsessed with fresh food. He was also working to send money home to his Chinese wife and two children, a seven-year-old boy and a girl, 11.

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A statement from the Harmonie German Club last night offered condolences ''to the family and friends of our colleagues who died recently after an unfortunate event of eating death cap mushrooms at a private meal''.

The statement said the deceased were employees of a contractor that runs the Chinese bistro at the club.

"We at the club are still in shock and in grief," the statement, issued by acting manager Mick Thamer, read.

"However we would like to assure the members and Canberra community that under no circumstances was their health at risk.

"The mushrooms were brought into the club for a private meal, cooked after bistro hours, by the chef for him and his co-workers. It was not a meal on the bistro menu and was not a meal that was offered to, or available to, the public," it added. Fairfax Media does not suggest the meal was available to the public.

Mr Liu's friends believe he picked the poisonous mushrooms in Braddon on his way home from work, mistaking them for the edible straw mushrooms used in Asian cooking.

The four friends at the dinner were not members of the same family.

Mr Liu's close friend Tom O'Dea said the man had eaten only a tiny portion of the deadly meal because he had been nervous about eating wild mushrooms.

Another person at the dinner had not eaten any mushrooms, and was unaffected.

"Liu Jun, being a chef, he's super into fresh food, and that's part of the problem here," Mr O'Dea said. "You really just don't expect that you make one mistake while eating something like that and be dead, and dead within 48 hours in the most horrible way."

Death caps are among the world's deadliest mushrooms.

Mr Liu's wife is trying to come to Canberra to cremate her husband. But without a passport or visa, she is enduring a lengthy bureaucratic fights.

Miss Tsou had been in Canberra for several months on a tourist visa. Her adult son is said to be having trouble raising funds for airfares and funeral expenses.

Mr O'Dea and the pair's friends have established a memorial fund to help the victims' families.

-Canberra Times

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