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Apricot kernels withdrawn over cyanide concern

By Anthony Fletcher , 18-Apr-2006

The announcement that eating too many bitter apricot kernels presents a possible health hazard has led to a voluntary withdrawal of the ingredient in the UK.

The Food Standard Agency (FSA)'s scientific committee, the committee on toxicity of chemicals in food, consumer products and the environment (COT), expressed concern last week that, when ingested, bitter apricot kernels can produce cyanide.

As a consequence, a UK supermarket has voluntarily withdrawn the product from sale in its stores.

The removal follows the FSA's request for COT to review the safety of the product, following information provided by Buckinghamshire Trading Standards about bitter apricot kernels on sale in a local Julian Graves store.

The dosage sheet accompanying the product indicated that consumers could take a maximum of 10 kernels a day, five times the limit recommended by the COT.

COT considers a safe intake is equivalent to one to two kernels a day.

The UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) has now warned consumers of the possible risk from excess consumption, and has issued advice on safe levels of use.

The FSA is concerned however that other retail and Internet outlets may be selling the kernels and not providing accurate advice about maximum intake. The agency is currently investigating other outlets and will also discuss possible EU action to protect consumers at a meeting with the European Commission and other member states this Friday.

Bitter apricot kernels have recently become available as a health food on the UK market. As well as bitter apricot kernels, low levels of cyanide are also present in almonds, sweet apricot kernels and in the stones of other fruits such as cherries.

A number of other cyanogenic glycosides are present in foods including linamarin (cassava, lima beans), prunasin (ferns) and sambunigrin (elderberries).

The Flavourings in Food Regulations 1992 (as amended) set permitted proportions of cyanide arising from the use of flavouring substances.

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