Raw apricot kernels are being recalled in New Zealand after three people needed hospital treatment.

They were sold by Christchurch business Ethnic Market in Linwood. Sale of raw apricot kernels is prohibited under New Zealand food law.

Those admitted to the hospital as a precaution have since been discharged after eating the raw kernels.

Ethnic General Trade Company Limited trading as Ethnic Market has recalled all batches and dates of Ethnic Market brand Apricot Pites (raw apricot kernels). The dried fruits and seeds come in a 500-gram bag.

Product tracing ongoing
Melinda Sando, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) national manager of food compliance, said the kernels have been removed from sale at Ethnic Market while the product is traced to see where else it is available.

“In the meantime, we are advising that if people have purchased these kernels they should throw them out, or return them to the place where they were bought. Raw apricot kernels contain a naturally occurring toxin that can break down to release cyanide when eaten. This can be harmful depending on the amount consumed,” she said.

It can cause a range of symptoms a few hours after ingestion from nausea, stomach aches, headaches, and respiratory issues through to cardiac arrest, depending on the amount eaten and can be serious, especially in children.

Regulated product
Apricot kernels contain a naturally occurring toxin called amygdalin which converts to cyanide after eating. Fresh apricots with the stone inside can still be sold and eaten. Apricot kernels are safe to eat in processed products, like almond biscuits, as the baking process reduces levels of the toxin. They resemble small almonds and have an almond-like taste.

A 2016 European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) opinion found eating more than three small raw apricot kernels, or less than half of one large kernel, in a serving can exceed safe levels. Some sellers promote them as a cancer-fighting food and promote intake of 10 and 60 kernels per day for the general population and cancer patients, respectively.

According to European Commission Regulation No. 2017/1237, apricot kernels must not contain more than 20 milligrams per kilogram of hydrocyanic acid.

Health Canada established a regulatory maximum level for total cyanide in apricot kernels sold as food. This also applies to apricot kernels used as an ingredient in other foods and came into effect in January this year. The limit is 20 parts per million (ppm) total extractable cyanide in apricot kernels sold for human consumption.

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