Please Don’t Eat the Daffodils

Public Health England has sent a letter to major British supermarket chains asking them “to ensure that daffodils, both the bulbs from which they sprout and the cut variety too, are displayed well away from the produce of fruit and vegetable area.” A number of shoppers “for whom English was not their first language” have mistaken the stalks for Chinese chives, an ingredient used in stir-fry and dumpling dishes. Eating daffodils results in vomiting and other gastrointestinal distress although ordinarily no lasting effects. [Telegraph, BBC]

One wonders why an informational strategy — perhaps especially aimed at word of mouth in the Chinese community — would not be preferred. Gail Heriot comments (via Facebook):

When we act to minimize tiny risks we often create other risks that will go unnoticed. Flowers are kept near produce in grocery stores in part because they both need water from time to time to stay fresh. One guy with a mop can take care of spills pretty efficiently. If the two are separated, he may be a tad less quick about getting that job done. If some little old lady slips, no one ever makes the connection between her broken leg and this nonsensical daffodil policy. Trying to deal with tiny, oddball risks frequently results in increasing more ordinary risks to everyday shoppers. The thing to do is cool it.

P.S.: Chuckle at “handwashing optional” Senator if you like, but then try actually thinking through what value choice might have in food safety [Jacob Grier]


  • Not sure why it’s Gail Heriot week all of a sudden here, but in any case…

    Nobody is pushing a regulation here. This is simply a polite request to consider whether keeping toxic plants next to edible plants is a wonderful idea. That doesn’t preclude an informational campaign in relevant communities as well.

    Grocery stores should obviously be prepared to handle spills anywhere within the market; one can just as easily shatter a glass jar in aisle #4 as they can spill water in the flower section. It’s absurd to think that a voluntary suggestion to try to reduce the number of unfortunately confused people who wind up sick will somehow cause an epidemic of fallen little old ladies. Furthermore, no market I’ve ever seen has a dedicated “guy with a mop” on standby in the produce aisle; that’s why we have the expression “cleanup on aisle #3.”

    I suppose the obvious solution is yet more customer choice. Allow markets to put their daffodils wherever they wish, but require them to post their spill cleanup plans on the front door. That way customers can decide whether they want to take the risk of entering the store based on how quickly spills will be attended to. And while they are at it, they can review the other 1,500 pages of customer choice disclosure information available on the front door. A door which has collapsed onto the customer under the weight of all the paper. Don’t worry, customer choice disclosure advocates are working on a scheme by which businesses can post their door safety plans.

  • As I recall, the Bucky Balls fiasco started with a polite request that was politely declined.

  • MX’s notion here is that when business managers receive a safety-related letter from their regulators stating “We are asking you… to ensure,” they regard it as merely hortatory and a helpful suggestion, to ignore or act on as they please. I think that notion would surprise many managers in regulated lines of business.

  • […] I discovered the initiative on the blog Overlawyered, where the author points out that a public information campaign might be more effective than […]