If that sounds like a headline more suitable to the Weekly World News than a serious health site like this one, let me assure you, that as strange as it sounds, it is to warn you about just how dangerous those spuds can be.
I am not talking about French Fries and heart disease. Apparently, rotting potatoes in your home can be deadly – as one Russian family tragically found out.
Then 8-year old Maria Chelsyheva lost her father, mother, brother and grandmother within minutes of each other after they each went down into the cellar at the family home. It was not some hockey-masked psycho killer waiting for them in the bowels of their home that did them in, rather, according to police, they were poisoned by toxic fumes from rotten potatoes!
One By One the Family Was Overwhelmed
It all started when Maria’s father, well-known local law professor, Mikhail Chelyshev, 42, went down to the cellar to get some potatoes for dinner his wife, Anastasia, was preparing for the family. Soon after entering the basement he was overcome by the fumes and subsequently passed away. When he failed to return, unaware of the seriously rotting potatoes, Anastasia, followed him, where she too was killed by the toxic fumes.
Next, the couple’s 18-year-old son Georgy went down in search of his parents, only to suffer the same tragic fate as his mother and father after inhaling the highly toxic potato produced gas.
Anastasia’s mother Iraida, 68, called a neighbor to say there was something suspicious and to plead for help.
But before assistance arrived, she also went into the cellar, suffocated from the gas, and collapsed and died like the others, say police, leaving Maria orphaned and alone.
How Can Potatoes Be So Deadly?
So how did this all happen? Potatoes contain toxic compounds known as glycoalkaloids, of which the most prevalent are solanine and chaconine.
Solanine is also found in other plants in the family known as Solanaceae, which includes such plants as the deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) and tobacco (Nicotiana) as well as the potato, eggplant, and tomato.
These toxins affect the nervous system, causing weakness and confusion. In high concentration, they are deadly alkaloid poisons. When potatoes rot these toxins build up and can be released as a gas. That is what happened in the Chelyshev’s cellar, where the potatoes had been rotting for several months since being stored there.
Experts suggest that potatoes not be stored for any length of time. Unrefrigerated, they should not be kept for more than 3 – 5 weeks. Certainly, once they have sprouted, they should be thrown out. Green potatoes should be handled carefully and discarded immediately. The green color indicates a buildup of the toxin solanine.