That’s the question the Asheville Citizen-Times examines in this interesting report. The basic issue:

On a busy night in downtown Asheville, countless chefs are unknowingly breaking the law.

A sushi restaurant serving wild mushroom rolls. An Italian eatery offering wild mushroom risotto. A Mexican restaurant with wild mushroom sopes listed on the menu.

They’re all cashing in on a growing interest in foraged foods, where “wild” and “foraged” are menu buzzwords with the same cache in Asheville as “local.”

But not every “wild” mushroom you’ll find in a restaurant is really found in the forest. Some are farm-raised. And those chefs who serve legitimately foraged foods might find themselves on the wrong side of the health inspector.

That’s because in 2009 the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Division of Public Health declared wild mushrooms forbidden menu items, unless individually inspected by an approved mushroom-identification expert.

The problem lies in what exactly constitutes an “expert” in the state’s eyes.

“It’s illegal for restaurants in North Carolina to serve wild mushrooms because they have to come from an ‘approved source,’ which has to be an ‘expert’,” forager Alan Muskat said. “But they’ve never established what that means and how to become one.”

Lots of issues here. Could eating the wrong type of mushroom make you sick or even kill you? Yes. Have “foraged” mushrooms served by restaurants made people sick in the recent past? The answer is also “yes” — and on at least four occasions that Muskat is aware of. Does that mean that mandating mushroom-identification experts is a good idea? Probably not. The market could address this problem pretty simply — if a restaurant and chef wants to serve foraged mushrooms fine, but they should be held liable if they get the identification wrong. And yes, that means among other things being named and shamed.