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Apricot kernels can be a risk to human health

Apricot kernels can be a risk to human health

The New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) today reminds New Zealand consumers that apricot kernels, sometimes marketed as a health food, can be a risk to human health.

The United Kingdom Food Standards Agency (UKFSA) recently advised that it considers a safe intake to be 1 to 2 kernels a day.

"A number of foods we eat – including green potatoes, kidney beans, rhubarb leaves and apple and pear seeds – can contain toxins and be harmful and cause sickness if taken in sufficient amounts," says Dr Andrew McKenzie, Executive Director of NZFSA.

Toxins sometimes occur naturally in plants or may be produced as a natural response by the plants to ward off insects or protect the produce from spoilage if, for example, they are damaged by weather, handling, ultra-violet light or microbes.

"It is important that if people choose to eat such products, they are aware of the risks they are taking and can make informed choices. The recent advice from the UK Food Standards Agency is a timely reminder of the hazards present in some of these fairly common foods," says Dr McKenzie.

Apricot kernels, which are sometimes sold as a health food, are particularly risky and can contain cyanide. They can cause poisoning if more than the recommended number are taken, leading to headaches, dizziness, confusion, convulsions, comas and possibly even death. NZFSA recommends people do not eat more than 1 to 2 kernels a day.

As cyanide is naturally produced by the fruit, the amounts in any particular kernel can be hard to predict or control. Levels may vary depending on growing conditions. The Australia New Zealand Food Standard Code states that naturally occurring toxins, including cyanide, should be kept as low as possible.

NZFSA is concerned that retail and internet outlets in New Zealand may not be providing correct advice about the recommended maximum intake and reminds consumers to follow the guidelines on natural toxins in food, available on our website: oxins/index.htm


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