I want to have a story where my character's find them selves on earth many thousands of years after an asteroid killed off most of life on earth. They have been in a bunker along with many other survivors. They where kept alive through cryogenics and as that tech took most of the budget in the making of these bunkers there was very little other supplies provided. When they come up life has returned and is flourishing with an abundance of food. However, some foods are poisonous and it can be very hard to tell which is edible and which will require processing.

My question is: How could people determine if a food is edible or not without risking death in the process? Ideally this process could be repeated on a poisonous food as they experiment on it to find a way to process it into an edible food.

Possible fall-backs -A process that can turn any food edible (this may not be possible as some process make some plants edible while it makes other worse) -A process to extract the essential nutrients that plants would provide through other safer means. Ideally without the need of technology to be brought along.

Important notes that may help: -humans have bitterness as a sense to detect poison but it is not 100% accurate now and would probably be worse in the future due to further evolution of plant poison. -Hunter Gatherer's used a process of having a little bit of anything to avoid reaching a critical mass of poison. This is a very simple process however it is not safe and could lead to death however this may be the starting ground for a valid process.

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    $\begingroup$ What kind of equipment are they bringing with them? Obviously they'll have a very different approach if they've waited out the years in an ark ship with analytic gear vs. if they're thrown 1,000 years into the future with just their street clothes. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    May 29, 2020 at 23:30
  • $\begingroup$ While I agree that the approach may differ initially based on food stores the have already (and as such I will put in the context in the question), they will eventually have to find some food that is edible on the planet as our crops take many months to cultivate. $\endgroup$ May 29, 2020 at 23:58
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    $\begingroup$ I think there some kind of military protocol for this kind of stuff. Something like: Take the Plant in question and rub it on your wrist. If there is no reaction after 10 minutes, take some of it under your tongue. If after another 10 minutes there is no reaction, then its probably safe to eat. $\endgroup$ May 30, 2020 at 0:09
  • $\begingroup$ I've heard of similar processes but when I've read into them I've always seen a large warning sign saying that the method is not a be all end all and should not be done unless in an emergency. In addition to that I believe those are evolutionary adaption to poisons that we have been exposed to for generations. The poisons in this new world may be much different to the one's we grew up with and thus not give off a response. If you have reason to disagree please let me know. $\endgroup$ May 30, 2020 at 0:28
  • $\begingroup$ Short answer: you don't. As mentioned, there are protocols for this, but I don't think it's possible to completely eliminate risk of death, especially if something is toxic in the manner of e.g. heavy metals; it doesn't kill you right away but may kill you from build-up years from now. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    May 30, 2020 at 1:17

1 Answer 1


If other non-human mammals survived, one can see what they are able to eat without having any health problems. For example, pigs and monkeys would probably get poisoned from similar food as humans would, but even something like rats might be close enough. If a rat is eating a berry and poops it's seed, then the berry is probably edible and the seed might not be.

It would be the safest to boil everything. Some poisons can give immediate problems (diarrhea, stomach ache, nausea, death), some cause problems after you eat the food for half a year.

On another note, if there aren't many animals, then many plants also probably can't be there. Bees and other insects would be essencial for the survival of many plants, some plants need animals as seed dispersers and fertilizers.

  • $\begingroup$ As many years have passed since the time we lived in and new plants and animal will have evolved to live in this new environment I believe that this method may not be effective or would require a large number of animals to all survive the food to prove it's edibility. I agree with the method, however, it is not as comprehensive and accurate as what I am looking for. $\endgroup$ May 29, 2020 at 23:46

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