A Spanish court has ruled the death of a woman was because of natural causes and not due to food poisoning at a restaurant that has a Michelin star.

The ruling was made in December 2019 by a judge at the Superior Court of Justice of the Valencian Community (TSJCV) and an investigation into the RiFF restaurant was closed.

The Ministry of Health of Valencia detected cases of food poisoning in February 2019 among customers of the restaurant in Valencia. An investigation and inspection found the site complied with sanitary regulations and there was no reason for it to be closed.

About thirty customers of the restaurant suffered food poisoning after eating morel mushrooms used in a rice-based dish, but symptoms were mild. The 46-year-old woman did suffer food poisoning but her death was due to a pre-existing condition, according to the ruling.

Mushrooms suspected
Spanish media quoted the judge as saying an analysis on the mushrooms revealed “some evidence of toxicity,” but with mild consequences such as nausea, vomiting or headaches.

In a statement, restaurant owner Bernd H. Knöller, said the morels had been sourced from a regular mushroom supplier that he had been working with for more than 25 years.

“As I knew, morels contain a mildly toxic substance when raw, which is generally believed to be destroyed in cooking, although apparently some mycologists have been demanding their prohibition for years,” he is quoted as saying.

“The mushrooms apparently had not come from Spain or from Europe but were from China, probably from Sichuan where the Chinese successfully cultivate them. Despite repeated requests, the supplier was not willing to confirm in writing the origin of the mushrooms.”

The number of foreign customers, which previously accounted for almost half of clientele, was reduced practically to zero following the incident and worldwide news coverage. RiFF achieved a Michelin star in 2009 and was awarded one star for 2020.

Knöller closed the restaurant at the time until the Ministry of Health concluded its investigation and it reopened in March.

“A combination of shock and media pressure made it impossible for me to continue working at the time. I have been operating my restaurant for 26 years but did not expect to receive such staunch support from our customers. The RiFF is still in business today because of their kindness,” Knöller said.

“The case was finally closed. So now it is time for me to take a deep breath and continue to do what I most enjoy: cooking.”

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