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Apricot Kernels (Bitter and Sweet)

Q. Is it safe to eat apricot kernels?
The FSAI advises against eating apricot kernels due to the risk of cyanide poisoning. This advice applies to raw, unprocessed apricot kernels and powdered forms of them. 

If you do decide to eat them, you should not eat more than 0.37g per adult per day, which is the equivalent of 1-2 small kernels. Eating more than this amount could cause an acute health risk. Children should not eat apricot kernels. 

Q. What is this advice based on?
Our advice is based on the recent scientific opinion by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). For more information, see the EFSA press release

Q What is the concern?
Apricot kernels contain the plant toxin amygdalin, which converts to cyanide after eating. Cyanide poisoning can cause nausea, fever, headaches, insomnia, thirst, lethargy, nervousness, joint and muscle aches and pains, and falling blood pressure. In extreme cases, it is fatal.

Q. What are apricot kernels?
The apricot kernel is the seed from inside the apricot stone. It is obtained by cracking open and removing the hard stone shell. 

These kernels can be bitter or sweet and are known to contain varying amounts of amygdalin. As there is no clear distinction between the amygdalin content of bitter and sweet varieties, this consumption advice relates to both bitter and sweet apricot kernels. 

Q. Is it safe to eat apricot fruit?
Yes, eating apricot fruit does not pose a health risk to consumers as the kernel, which is inside the apricot stone, has no contact with the apricot fruit.

Q. Are there restrictions on the sale of apricot kernels?
Yes. According to Commission Regulation (EU) No. 2017/1237, apricot kernels (unprocessed whole, ground, milled, cracked or chopped) must not contain more than 20 mg/kg of hydrocyanic acid. In addition, as a general rule, food business operators must not place unsafe food on the market and must provide the consumer with appropriate instructions for use on the food label. 

Q. What about labelling?
The FSAI advises that apricot kernels should be labelled to inform consumers that adults should eat no more than 1-2 small kernels per day due to the risk of cyanide poisoning. Information that apricot kernels are not suitable for children should also be provided on the label.

Medicinal claims must not be made about any food. Apricot kernels have been wrongly promoted as having anti-cancer effects. This has led to some people suffering cyanide poisoning after having consumed more than two kernels per day. 

Q. What about bitter almonds?
While the EFSA study did not specifically address bitter almonds, studies have shown that the amygdalin level in raw bitter almonds is similar to that of apricot kernels. Therefore, FSAI advises against eating bitter almonds due to the risk of cyanide poisoning. 

Q. I ate apricot kernels or bitter almonds and I am not feeling well. What should I do?
If you ate apricot kernels or bitter almonds and are feeling unwell, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible.

Last reviewed: 9/11/2017

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