UK FSA Guidelines (2006)

Food Standards Agency (EU&UK) - Advice Postings

12th May 2016

We advise that bitter apricot kernels including the powdered forms should not be eaten. This is because a naturally-occurring substance in the kernels changes – after people eat the products – to cyanide. Our updated advice follows a recent evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority.

We also advise that sweet apricot kernels, bitter almond kernels and powdered forms* are not eaten as the same toxic chemical can be present in these also.

The risk

Bitter apricot kernels, and bitter almond kernels, contain high amounts of the naturally-occurring substance called amygdalin that contributes to the bitter taste. This changes to the toxin cyanide after people eat the kernels. Variable amounts of amygdalin will also be present in the sweet apricot kernels.

Cyanide is a poisonous chemical that can cause nausea, fever, headaches, insomnia, thirst, lethargy, nervousness, joint and muscle aches and pains, falling blood pressure, and in extreme cases can be fatal.

Products that can be eaten

Our advice only applies to raw, unprocessed apricot kernels, bitter almond kernels and powdered forms of them.

Apricot kernels and bitter almond kernels can be used as flavouring in some foods, such as persipan paste. These flavoured products are safe to eat because* the kernels have undergone heat treatment or another type of relevant processing, and this means there are no harmful risks from cyanide.

The study

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) study looked at the risks to human health from apricot kernels. Based on cyanide levels, typically present from raw apricot kernels, EFSA concluded that an adult who eats less than half of a large kernel could exceed the safe level. For toddlers the amount would be about half of one small kernel. EFSA also concluded that it was not possible to distinguish between the bitter and sweet varieties of apricot kernels. Scientific literature also shows that cyanide levels in raw bitter almond kernels are similar to apricot kernels and so the same advice would apply.

The EFSA news story and opinion can be found via the link on this page.

Further information

We had previously assessed health risks from bitter apricot kernels and published advice about eating them. This advice has now been updated following the EFSA scientific opinion. In addition, we will be considering what further precautionary measures may be necessary in future discussions with the European Commission and other member states.

FSA alerts consumers about possible risk from eating bitter apricot kernels

11th April 2006

Ref: 2006/0647

The Food Standards Agency is today warning consumers of the possible risk to health from excess consumption of bitter apricot kernels and is issuing advice on safe levels of use.

The Agency's scientific committee, the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT), expressed concern that, when ingested, bitter apricot kernels can produce cyanide.

The COT therefore considered a safe intake is equivalent to one to two kernels a day.

The FSA asked the COT to review the safety of this product at its meeting on 28 March 2006 following information provided by Buckinghamshire Trading Standards about bitter apricot kernels on sale in a local Julian Graves store. The paper discussed at the COT meeting is available at the link below.

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. Julian Graves voluntarily withdrew this product from sale in its UK stores.

The FSA is concerned that other retail and internet outlets may be selling the kernels and not providing accurate advice about maximum intake.

The Agency is investigating other outlets and will also discuss possible EU action to protect consumers at a meeting with the European Commission and other member states on 21 April 2006.

K &J Services E&OE 2017/1