Squash poisoning: a sure sign

Verified on 16/08/2022 by Guillaume Tabbara, Journalist
Intoxication aux courges : ce signe qui ne trompe pas

Be careful with your squash, if it has this distinctive sign, don’t eat it!

Every year, the French National Health and Safety Agency (Anses) draws attention to the consumption of bitter and potentially toxic squash. How can you tell if a squash is inedible?

Some squashes are toxic

Not all squashes are edible, and some of them « may even be the cause of food poisoning sometimes serious », reminds the Anses in its October 25, 2021 press release.

These vegetables naturally create other gourds, which are then an exact replica of the edible cucurbits. The aim is to lure insects such as caterpillars.

These hybrid squashes, which we don’t eat, produce cucurbitacins, toxins that are highly irritating to the human organism. This substance is not destroyed when the squash is cooked. Toxic if ingested, it can cause a number of symptoms in the consumer.

How to recognize toxic squash?

The decorative squash has exactly the same physical characteristics as the edible vegetable. So it’s hard to tell them apart.

As Anses informs us, squash can be sold directly in the fruit and vegetable section of shops, even though their use is strictly decorative. In this case, it’s best to look carefully at the label, or ask a sales assistant for advice.

If the squash comes from a home garden, the specialist agency recommends avoiding all consumption of « wild » squash that has grown spontaneously, and buying new seeds for each new seed.

Seeds from previous harvests should not be resown, as edible squash plants can be pollinated by hybrid squash, making them unfit for consumption.

What’s more, the only way to know whether or not a vegetable is safe to eat is to taste it raw. If it tastes bitter, spit it out as quickly as possible and do not eat it, even cooked, as it is toxic.

It’s the aforementioned cucurbitacins that are responsible for squash’s bitterness.

What are the risks of ingestion?

If bitter gourd is ingested, clinical signs appear rapidly. The symptoms are mainly digestive. The person who has eaten it may experience stomach pains, nausea with or without vomiting, or sometimes bloody diarrhea.

In an extreme case, and in the absence of medical care, the patient runs the risk of becoming severely dehydrated, which may lead to hospitalization.

What to do if swallowed

If a person shows signs of poisoning, contact a poison control center or seek prompt medical advice. In a medical emergency, call 15 or 112.

Don’t throw away poisoned squash! It’s a good idea to save any leftovers so that experts can check for toxins.