Can You Actually Fail a Drug Test If You Eat a Poppy Seed Bagel?

It’s Monday morning. You’re on your way to a job interview. You stop at the local bagel shop to grab some breakfast on the go — and choose a poppy seed bagel. The next thing you know, you’ve failed the company’s drug test and lost out on the job. Is this actually possible? The complex answer is yes, but it’s not as clean-cut as you’d think.

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Can poppy seed bagels actually affect your drug test? | Matt Burchell/Getty Images

Where do poppy seeds and opium come from?

Poppy seeds are derived from the poppy plant — the same plant from which opium is derived. The U.S. poppy seed supply is mostly harvested in the Netherlands, with some poppy seeds coming from Turkey as well. The harvesting process is fairly simple. When the poppy plant blooms, the farmer waits until every single petal falls off the plant. (Poppy plants are beautiful when in bloom, which you’ll recall if you’ve ever seen The Wizard of Oz.) Once the petals are gone, the farmer cuts open the seed pod, which allows the opium to escape. (It looks similar to sap.) Once the opium is completely gone, the dried pods can be cut open to reveal tons of tiny seeds. The seeds are then cultivated for use in foods, such as bagels or cakes.

So is there still opium on the seeds when they’re harvested?

Here’s where things get complicated. The short answer is yes, but it’s unlikely. The poppy seeds are cleaned and processed once they’re harvested, so if you eat a poppy seed bagel, there’s a good chance it won’t have any opium residue. However, it’s not guaranteed. In some cases, although the opium drips out and the seeds are cleaned, there can still be trace amounts of the substance left on the poppy seeds. In that case, consuming a significant amount of poppy seeds, such as eating a whole poppy seed bagel or having a few slices of poppy seed cake, might yield a false positive on a drug test.

However, this doesn’t mean that every time you eat a poppy seed bagel, you’ll turn up a false positive. In most cases, you won’t. But if luck isn’t on your side, it’s definitely a possible misfortune.

One Maryland woman learned the hard way

Elizabeth Eden was in labor at a Baltimore hospital when a nurse came in and told her that she had tested positive for opioids in her drug test. Eden was shocked, and her baby was kept by the hospital for five days while she and her home were evaluated and searched for any sign of opioid addiction. Eden revealed she’d had a poppy seed bagel for breakfast the morning of her daughter’s birth but couldn’t believe it had resulted in a false positive test for opioids.

Studies have shown that with poppy seeds containing opium residue, as little as one tablespoon can yield a false positive. Eden wrote a letter to the hospital explaining that she was unaware of the hospital’s standards for what would be considered positive on a drug test. An OBGYN at the hospital said they don’t typically educate patients on that, but it might be beneficial to start. Eden has since been reunited with her baby but said the ordeal was “traumatizing.”

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