In 2010, Elizabeth Mort was preparing to give birth. Before she went into labor, the Pennsylvania woman steeled herself by eating a poppy-seed bagel. Because of this, state child-protective services seized the newborn child and placed Mort’s baby in foster care—as Mort’s blood tested positive for opium metabolites.
Yes, a Seinfeld episode brought to life. (Why hospitals feel the need to screen new mothers’ blood for drugs, after eating bagels and delivering babies, is another matter.)
This is a real thing, and it’s a real problem.
You probably know that opium is derived from the poppy, the seeds of which are sprinkled on bread products in order for evidence of their consumption to be stuck between your teeth for hours—and in your urine for days.
As Snopes discovered, the poppy seeds from just one bagel are enough to trigger a false positive on drug tests for up to two days. Bagels have caused a New Jersey prison guard to be fired; a St. Louis cop (who had eaten four poppy seed bagels the day before a test, something—a four-bagel day—we cannot recommend) to be suspended; and a Baltimore woman to lose her chance at a job.
Offenders on their way to freedom living in halfway houses have also been returned to prison for blowing drug tests thanks to poppy seeds, Snopes reported.
Maybe we’ll finally grasp the magnitude of this absurdity after a well-known British television presenter more closely associated with fascinators and other strange hat-wear choices than drug use also failed a drug test after going overboard on poppy seeds.
Angela Rippon, 72, has been a television presenter for the BBC since the 1960s and now hosts Rip Off Britain, a sort of national version of the “on your side” consumer-advocacy shows that are a staple of local television news in the U.S.
As the Guardian reported, a Rip Off contributor told the show he’d been sacked from his job at a power station after eating poppy seed bread for breakfast. Rippon put the theory to the test by eating her own poppy-seed-laced bread, and lo! She failed the test.
“In more than 50 years of broadcasting, I’ve found myself in a number of extraordinary situations,” Rippon said in a statement. “But I must say, I never thought I’d find myself taking a drugs test, let alone have it come back positive.”
This means Rippon is both privileged, and does not work any jobs that require heavy machinery.
Blue-collar, entry-level jobs—the kind of jobs for which the poor, who are more likely to use drugs, according to many studies, are more likely to compete for—are more likely than white-collar office jobs to test for marijuana and other drugs, as the Cannabist reported recently.
Silicon Valley engineering firms competing for top talent are more likely to let their star engineers eat all the bagels they want; the same won’t be true for the security guards overseeing their free lunches or the shuttle bus drivers ferrying them to work.
What does this accomplish? Is it a not-so-subtle means of social control?
Eat a bagel or two and find out for yourself, or rage, rage against mandatory drug testing—especially if you’re lucky enough to work at a job where nobody checks your pee.