It’s Time for a Poppy Party

Hello again, this is Todd. I am happy to be blogging again, as I feared that my previous one may have been my last. In case you haven’t heard, this blog is For the Public Record and in it you will hear thought leadership from the most seasoned experts on our staff, across all functions of the background screening process.

Have you ever wanted to do something, but thought if you asked “permission”, it would be a “no”, so instead you just did it? Now that it’s been a couple of weeks and no one died or got severely ill, I feel safe talking about it.

Working in a drug screening office, the number one excuse you hear is always about secondhand marijuana smoke—how it’s never the person who was being drug tested that is the smoker. Instead, it’s always their roommate, friend, or spouse. The second most common excuse you hear is the poppy seed bagel (or muffin) excuse. In my last blog, I went into detail about opiates and quantitative levels. I wrote about reasons why the federal government raised the cutoff levels from 300 ng/mL to 2000 ng/mL and what you should consider when writing your workplace polices. You can click here for more details, or to save you time: it was determined that foods that contained poppy seeds could give you levels of morphine over 300 ng, but well under 2000 ng. However, even when applicants test over the 2000 ng level, they still pull out the poppy seed bagel excuse.

FTPR Its Time for a Poppy Party 2 225x300 - It's Time for a Poppy Party

I decided to do an unscientific study to test this theory. If HR or Legal is reading this, I would suggest you stop now. I asked for volunteers in my office who would like to consume large amounts of poppy seeds and then go for a drug test. We had seven volunteers in total (including me) who decided to put our life on the line for this study.

We had a “Poppy Party”. This consisted of two dozen poppy seed bagels, three dozen mini poppy seed muffins, poppy seed rolls, and jars of plain poppy seeds. The seven of us ate breakfast like we never had before—or ever will again. Some of us were on the Atkins or Keto diet so we stayed with the straight poppy seeds, while others did the bagels and muffins. Most of the time, those eating the bagels/muffins were adding extra poppy seeds to the cream cheese or dipping the muffins into more poppy seeds (see pictures).

Here is what each person consumed during a 60-90 min “breakfast” period. No names are being used to protect the innocent.

Person A                      5 tsp of poppy seeds

Person B                      2 tsp of poppy seeds

Person C                      1 Bagel, 4 muffins, 2 tsp of poppy seeds

Person D                     1 bagel, 1 muffin, 5 tsp of poppy seeds

Person E                      4 tsp of poppy seeds

Person F                      1 bagel, 3 muffins, 3 tsp of poppy seeds

Person G                     3 bagels, 3 muffins, 2 tsp of poppy seeds

FTPR Its Time for a Poppy Party 3 225x300 - It's Time for a Poppy Party

We tested Opiates (Codeine/Morphine) at the 300 ng level. How many, if any at all, do you think registered over the 300 ng? Over 2000 ng?

Answer: Three of the seven registered over the 300 ng mark.

Here were the outcomes:

Person A                      NEGATIVE

Person B                      NEGATIVE

Person C                      Morphine 300 ng & Codeine 338 ng

Person D                     Morphine 469 ng

Person E                      NEGATIVE

Person F                      NEGATIVE

Person G                     Morphine 300 ng

What does all of this mean? Here are the conclusions I can draw from these results:

  • If the testing level for Opiates is 2000 ng, food consumption is not a valid excuse.
  • The average person—if they eat a poppy seed bagel or muffin for breakfast—is not having two or three at one sitting, and they are definitely not dipping it in extra poppy seeds or supplementing it with poppy seed shots.
  • Even with the excess consumption of poppy seeds, no-one cracked the 500 ng threshold.
  • Codeine can also show up from food consumption, but not always.

As I stated earlier, this was not a scientific study and we had many uncontrolled variables: each person metabolizes food differently; cooked poppy seeds are different than raw poppy seeds; some people waited two hours between consumption and testing, others four hours. The bottom line is even at 300 ng, it is very unlikely that a single poppy seed bagel would result in a positive test.

After this study, I have had employees ask about testing other excuses, and when we floated the idea of testing out the number one excuse, the secondhand marijuana smoke, it’s amazing, we had 100% of the office volunteer.

If you are reading this, it means it got published, and most likely I am still employed. However, if I am not, I will be setting up a GoFundMe page for my legal bills. This is For The Record.


Todd Shoulberg - President, Medical Information Services

Todd Shoulberg provides direction and leadership to the daily operations of ClearStar’s Medical Review Office. He is responsible for keeping all drug testing clients in compliance with state, federal, and local regulations, and identifies new testing methods and products for clients to utilize in their drug testing programs.

Before joining ClearStar, Todd served as Vice President of Florida Drug Screening, Inc., where he oversaw operations of the Medical Review Office, including Sales, Marketing, and Customer Service.

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