The European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) has opened a public consultation into a draft opinion on the health risks of cyanogenic glycosides in foods other than raw apricot kernels. Cyanogenic glycosides contain chemically bound cyanide and are present in foods such as apricot kernels, almonds, linseed, or cassava. When the plant cells are damaged, by for example grinding or chewing, cyanogenic glycosides and their degrading enzymes are brought into contact and cyanide is released. Cyanide is readily absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract and rapidly distributed to all organs. Cyanide poisoning can cause a number of health issues, and in extreme cases, can be fatal.
In 2016, EFSA evaluated the acute health risk of cyanogenic glycosides in raw apricot kernels. In that 2016 scientific opinion, EFSA set a safe level for one-off exposure (known as an acute reference dose (ARfD)) of 20 µg/kg body weight. EFSA recommended that adults could consume three small apricot kernels without exceeding the AFrD.
In its latest draft opinion on the health risk of cyanide in foods, the CONTAM panel reviewed 2,586 analytical results on total cyanide in foods, and the highest occurrence values were in bitter almonds and linseed. The panel concluded the AFrD of 20 micrograms per kilogram of body weight was applicable for acute effects of cyanide regardless of the dietary source. Ultimately, EFSA’s review concluded that it is unlikely that there is a health risk from cyanogenic glycosides in foods other than raw apricot kernels. Interested parties are invited to submit written comments by January 25, 2019.