TV Presenter Tests Positive for Opiates After Eating Poppy Seed Bagels

The BBC’s Angela Rippon isn’t the first to fail a drug test due to poppy seed baked goods.

by Daisy Meager
31 May 2017, 4:54pm

Photo via Flickr user Jessica and Lon Binder

Everyone has a favourite bagel. Some go for sesame seed and salt beef, others prefer to smother cinnamon-flavoured rings with cream cheese. And then there are the purists for whom nothing beats plain.

But here's some concerning news for anyone with a soft spot for poppy seed bagels (aside from the fact that you'll be finding those black kernels in your teeth for days): foods made with poppy seeds can contain opiates.

See, poppy seeds themselves don't contain opium—the psychoactive substance chemically processed to make codeine and heroin—but the sap of the poppy plant does. And according to a recent experiment carried out for BBC consumer advice show Rip Off Britain: Food, contamination between the two parts of the plant during harvest means that innocent-seeming poppy seed bread and bagels can end up with traces of opiates.

On the show, which aired earlier this week, presenter Angela Rippon ate a loaf of poppy seed bread and a poppy seed bagel over three days before taking a drug test. When the results came back, they showed that morphine was present in her system.

The trial was carried out after a viewer contacted Rip Off Britain: Food claiming that he had been wrongly sacked from his job at a power station after a routine drug test came back positive for opiates. The viewer put the test results down to the poppy seed bread he ate for breakfast every morning. He didn't report experiencing any psychoactive effects.

To find out exactly how potent a loaf of Hovis Seed Sensations can really be, MUNCHIES reached out to the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA), who help regulate the production of poppy seeds food products.

A spokesperson told us: "Poppy seeds do not naturally contain opium alkaloids, but they can become contaminated with low levels of alkaloids as a result of damage during harvesting. There are very few reports of adverse effects arising from the traditional consumption of poppy seeds, but morphine-like effects have been observed in humans following consumption of food containing poppy seeds contaminated with high levels of opium alkaloids."

These comments echo the findings of a study carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2011, which concluded that "the consumption of food containing poppy seeds could represent a health concern for some consumers." The study found that the amount of morphine in the systems of those who consumed a high number of poppy seeds was higher than the minimum dosage given to medical patients.

Since the EFSA's report, the FSA has issued guidelines for food manufacturers to reduce the opiate level in poppy seeds and poppy seed products, such as washing and heating the seeds during processing. It also set a maximum level of 10 milligrams of opium per kilogram of poppy seeds. The lowest medical dosage of the substance is 10 milligrams of morphine per kilogram of body weight.

So don't worry, the most that smoked salmon poppy seed bagel can do is put you in a food coma.