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EFSA warns of cyanide risk from eating raw apricot kernels

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is reminding the public that eating even a small amount of raw apricot kernels can cause cyanide poisoning and can be fatal in extreme cases.

Raw apricotsEFSA notes that a small amount consumed in one serving means more than three small raw apricot kernels, or less than half of one large one, can exceed safe levels. The agency adds that toddlers consuming even one small apricot kernel risk being over the safe level.

Apricot kernels contain a compound called amygdalin that converts to cyanide after consumption. Cyanide poisoning can cause nausea, fever, headaches, insomnia, thirst, lethargy, nervousness, joint and muscle aches and pains, and falling blood pressure. In extreme cases, it can be deadly.

Studies indicate that 0.5 to 3.5 milligrams (mg) of cyanide per kilogram of body weight can be lethal. EFSA’s Scientific Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain set a safe level for a one-time exposure (known as the Acute Reference Dose, or ARfD) of 20 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. This is 25 times below the lowest reported lethal dose, the agency notes.

Based on these limits and the amounts of amygdalin typically present in raw apricot kernels, EFSA’s experts estimate that adults could consume three small apricot kernels (370 mg) without exceeding the ARfD. For toddlers, the amount would be 60 mg, which is about half of one small kernel. EFSA adds that normal consumption of apricots does not pose a health risk to consumers.

The kernel is the seed from inside the apricot stone. The kernel is obtained by cracking open and removing the hard stone shell and, therefore, it has no contact with the fruit.

Most raw apricot kernels sold in the European Union are believed to be imported from outside the EU and marketed to consumers via the Internet. Some sellers promote them as a cancer-fighting food and recommend intakes of 10 and 60 kernels per day for the general population and cancer patients, respectively.

EFSA reports that the agency did not evaluate the claimed benefits of raw apricot kernels for cancer treatment or any other use since it was outside EFSA’s food safety scope of inquiry and not part of this scientific opinion.

The risk assessment will inform risk managers in the European Commission and Member States who regulate EU food safety, EFSA says. They will decide if measures are needed to protect public health from consumption of raw apricot kernels.

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