Apricot kernels pose risk of cyanide poisoning
Eating more than three small raw apricot kernels, or less than half of one large kernel, in a serving can exceed safe levels. Toddlers consuming even one small apricot kernel risk being over the safe level.
A naturally-occurring compound called amygdalin is present in apricot kernels and converts to cyanide after eating. Cyanide poisoning can cause nausea, fever, headaches, insomnia, thirst, lethargy, nervousness, joint and muscle various aches and pains, and falling blood pressure. In extreme cases it is fatal.
Studies indicate 0.5 to 3.5 milligrams (mg) 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-off exposure Concentration or amount of a particular substance that is taken in by an individual, population or ecosystem in a specific frequency over a certain amount of time. (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 total amount of a substance (e.g. a chemical or nutrient) given to, consumed or absorbed by an individual organism, population or ecosystem..
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 (370mg), without exceeding the ARfD. For toddlers the amount would be 60mg which is about half of one small kernel.
Apricot fruit is not affected
Normal consumption of apricot fruit does not pose a health risk to consumers. The kernel is the seed from inside the apricot stone. It is obtained by cracking open and removing the hard stone shell and, therefore, has no contact with the fruit.
Most raw apricot kernels sold in the EU are believed to be imported from outside the EU and marketed to consumers via the internet. Sellers promote them as a cancer-fighting food and some actively promote intakes of 10 and 60 kernels per day for the general population Community of humans, animals or plants from the same species. and cancer patients, respectively.
Evaluating the claimed benefits of raw apricot kernels for cancer treatment or any other use is outside EFSA’s food safety remit and was, therefore, not part of this scientific opinion Opinions include risk assessments on general scientific issues, evaluations of an application for the authorisation of a product, substance or claim, or an evaluation of a risk assessment..
EFSA consulted its partners in EU Member States to discuss this scientific opinion and previous assessments by national authorities (see report below). This risk assessment A specialised field of applied science that involves reviewing scientific data and studies in order to evaluate risks associated with certain hazards. It involves four steps: hazard identification, hazard characterisation, exposure assessment and risk characterisation. will inform risk managers in the European Commission and Member States who regulate EU food safety. They will decide if measures are needed to protect public health from consumption of raw apricot kernels.
- Scientific opinion on the acute health risks related to the presence of cyanogenic glycosides in apricot kernels and products derived from apricot kernels
- Joint EFSA-EFET-BfR document: Acute health risks related to consumption of raw apricot kernels and products thereof (22 April 2016)
Correction: this story originally indicated that eating more than one large apricot kernel would exceed the ARfD for adults. EFSA’s opinion states that “consumption of less than half of one large kernel could already exceed the ARfD for adults” therefore this has been corrected.