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Service Members Should Avoid Foods With Poppy Seeds

Service members may want to hold off ordering that "everything" bagel.

It's not an urban legend: Eating poppy seeds can cause diners to test positive for codeine on a urinalysis, Defense Department officials said in a memo released yesterday.

A photo shows a five-sided building.
The Pentagon
An aerial of the The Pentagon, May 12, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brittany A. Chase
VIRIN: 210512-D-BM568-1183

"Recent data suggests certain poppy seeds varieties may have higher codeine contamination than previously reported," said Gilbert R. Cisneros Jr., the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. "Consumption of poppy seed products could cause a codeine-positive urinalysis result and undermine the department's ability to identify illicit drug use."

This comes as something of a surprise for the department. At one point, some meals ready-to-eat contained lemon poppy seed cake, and dining facilities often served poppy seed salad dressing.

Officials became aware of the problem in 2022 and have worked to review the "limited scientific studies and also contracted with an independent laboratory to have the codeine and morphine contamination of multiple poppy seed brands analyzed," officials said. "The analysis and other recently published studies were the catalyst for the warning regarding poppy seeds."

Two young men watch TV while eating at a table in a dining facility.
Meal Time
People enjoy their meal at Fast Brrreak at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, Oct. 7, 2022. Fast Brrreak is a non-appropriated funds facility that opened on July 27, 2022. Defense Department officials are now warning service members that eating poppy seeds could cause them to test positive for codeine on a urinalysis.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Vaughn Weber
VIRIN: 221006-F-BS488-1027C

The poppy seed memo calls on the Army, Navy and Air Force to notify service members "to avoid consumption of all poppy seeds, including food products and baked goods containing poppy seeds." Bagels, rolls, salads and salad dressing are the most common foods with poppy seeds, but there are many other foods where poppy seeds are used as spice. Many foods contain poppy seeds in the Balkans, the Middle East, and central and eastern Europe.

It's possible that some service members have been disciplined or discharged for "innocent or unknown ingestion" of poppy seeds, an official said. "We are currently working that analysis and focusing on codeine-only positive tests from fiscal year 2019 to present," the official continued. "This timeline is based on currently available information. The amount of poppy seeds consumed, concentration of codeine detected in urine and time of consumption relative to the drug test are also important factors. As we gather more information, we will reassess and update, as appropriate."

In his memo, Cisneros said service members should work with their local legal office for any related concerns with urinalysis results.

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