Food safety tips for fiddleheads

Fiddleheads are the curled, edible shoots of the ostrich fern and are considered a seasonal delicacy in many parts of Canada. Every year, thousands of Canadians get food poisoning. Fiddleheads can cause food poisoning if they have not been stored, prepared or cooked properly. Protect your family by following some simple rules.

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Health risks

A number of foodborne illness outbreaks (also known as "food poisoning") from eating raw or undercooked fiddleheads have been reported in Canada and the United States since 1994. So far, studies have not determined the cause of these illnesses.

Other types of ferns, like foxglove and bracken ferns, are not safe to eat because they may be toxic or carcinogenic.

Proper handling and thorough cooking of fiddleheads can reduce the potential for foodborne illness.

Did you know?

Fiddleheads are the young shoots of the ostrich fern and fresh fiddlehead ferns are only available in the spring and the rest of the year they can be found frozen.


  • Using your fingers, remove as much of the brown papery husk on the fiddlehead as possible.
  • Wash the fiddleheads in several changes of fresh, cold water to remove any residual husk or dirt.


  • Cook fiddleheads in a generous amount of boiling water for 15 minutes, or steam them for 10 to 12 minutes until tender. Discard the water used for boiling or steaming the fiddleheads.
  • Cook fiddleheads before sautéing, frying, baking, or using them in other foods like mousses and soups.


  • Clean the fiddleheads properly.
  • Boil them for two minutes.
  • Discard the cooking water.
  • Plunge the fiddleheads into cold water and drain.
  • Pack the fiddleheads in freezer containers or bags.
  • Store fiddleheads in the freezer for up to one year for best quality.
  • Follow the complete cooking instructions above before serving.
  • Never re-freeze thawed food.


  • Do not use a pressure canner to preserve fiddleheads at home. Safe process times have not been established for home-preserved fiddleheads.

How the Government of Canada protects you

Health Canada establishes regulations and standards relating to the safety and nutritional quality of foods sold in Canada. Through inspection and enforcement activities, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency verifies that food sold in Canada meets Health Canada's requirements.

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