Health Canada reminds Canadians about the risks of consuming apricot kernels

Starting date:
July 25, 2019
Posting date:
July 25, 2019
Type of communication:
Information Update
Subcategory:
Cyanide Poisoning
Source of recall:
Health Canada
Issue:
Food Safety
Audience:
General Public
Identification number:
RA-70545

Last updated:

July 25, 2019
For immediate release

OTTAWA – Health Canada is reminding Canadians to limit their consumption of apricot kernels because of the risk of cyanide poisoning. Apricot kernels naturally contain amygdalin, which can release cyanide after being eaten.

The human body can eliminate small amounts of cyanide, but larger amounts can result in cyanide poisoning, which could lead to death. Symptoms of cyanide poisoning include weakness and confusion, anxiety, restlessness, headache, nausea, difficulty breathing and shortness of breath, loss of consciousness, seizures and cardiac arrest.

Canadians who have consumed apricot kernels and experience symptoms associated with cyanide poisoning should seek medical attention immediately.

To protect Canadians from the potential risk of cyanide poisoning from eating apricot kernels, Health Canada is establishing a regulatory maximum level for total extractable cyanide in apricot kernels sold as a food in Canada. The maximum level would also apply to apricot kernels used as an ingredient in other foods. This maximum level will allow Canadians to safely eat apricot kernels in a manner similar to other types of seeds and nuts.

The maximum level comes into effect on January 25, 2020. For apricot kernels purchased before this date, Health Canada continues to advise that children should never consume them and adults are advised to consume no more than three apricot kernels per day, and that they should be ground and mixed with other foods.

During the transition period, the Department will follow up with major suppliers of apricot kernel products that currently exceed the maximum level to confirm that these products will no longer be available for sale in Canada. As of January 25, 2020, only those products that do not exceed the maximum level for total extractable cyanide will be permitted for sale.

Apricot kernels are the seeds found inside the pits (stones) of fresh apricots. Apricot kernels resemble small almonds and have an almond-like taste. There are two types of apricot kernels, based on taste, bitter and sweet. Both bitter and sweet apricot kernels naturally contain amygdalin.

Apricot kernels are typically sold in health food stores, Asian grocery stores, and on the internet as whole or half kernels, either pre-packaged or in bulk. They may also be sold ground, and may be used as an ingredient in foods and beverages. Both bitter and sweet apricot kernels look and taste like almonds, making them difficult for consumers to identify if they are not clearly labelled. Consumers should inquire at the point of sale if the food products they are purchasing are not clearly labelled to identify their contents.

Amygdalin may also be called “laetrile” or “vitamin B17”. “Vitamin B17” is not a recognized vitamin in the Food and Drug Regulations. Health Canada considers any food, including apricot kernels, making a statement or claim relating to its “vitamin B17” content to be in violation of the Regulations.

Apricot kernels sold as food and food products containing apricot kernels should not be consumed for medicinal purposes. Neither apricot kernels, amygdalin, laetrile, nor “vitamin B17” have been authorized by Health Canada for use in any therapeutic or natural health product to treat cancer.

Should Canadians have any questions after January 25, 2020, about whether certain products meet the maximum level, they should contact manufacturers or sellers directly. Canadians are encouraged to report any food safety or labelling concerns to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Media Inquiries:
Health Canada
(613) 957-2983

Public Inquiries:
(613) 957-2991
1-866 225-0709