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Public advisory

Archived – Health Canada Advises Canadians to Limit Consumption of Bitter Apricot Kernels

Starting date:
June 24, 2009
Posting date:
June 24, 2009
Type of communication:
Natural health products
Source of recall:
Health Canada
Important Safety Information, Poisoning Hazard
General Public
Identification number:

Health Canada is advising Canadians against consuming large amounts of bitter apricot kernels or products containing these kernels because of the risk of cyanide poisoning. Bitter apricot kernels contain a natural substance that can release cyanide into the body after being consumed. This has resulted in at least one Canadian consumer having serious adverse reactions requiring hospitalization.

Small amounts of cyanide, such as the amount that would be produced after consuming one or two kernels, are not likely to pose a health risk since these levels of cyanide can be eliminated by the body without any health impacts. However, consuming more bitter apricot kernels could expose the consumer to unsafe levels of cyanide. Health Canada advises Canadians to limit their consumption of bitter apricot kernels to no more than three kernels per day for adults; they are not recommended for children.

Apricot kernels are seeds that are found in the pit (stones) of the apricot fruit. There are two kinds of kernels found in apricots, sweet and bitter. Sweet kernels and the flesh of apricots do not pose a health risk to Canadians.

Packages of bitter whole apricot kernels can be found in health food stores and some Asian grocery stores. Consumers sometimes use bitter apricot kernels to flavour foods. These kernels may also be promoted in some health foods as a medicinal ingredient.

Health Canada has not approved any product using apricot kernels for any medicinal or natural health purposes. The use of unauthorized natural health products containing this ingredient may result in a possible reaction.

Health Canada advises consumers not to use any unauthorized natural health products containing bitter apricot kernels. Authorized health products will bear either an eight-digit Drug Identification Number (DIN), a Natural Product Number (NPN) or a Drug Identification Number for Homeopathic Medicine (DIN-HM) on the label. This authorization indicates that the products have been assessed by Health Canada for safety, effectiveness and quality.

Health Canada is also reminding Canadian retailers not to sell unauthorized natural health products containing bitter apricot kernels.

More information on bitter apricot kernels is available on the Health Canada website.

Consumers who are concerned about symptoms possibly associated with the use of products containing bitter apricot kernels should consult with their health care practitioner. Consumers requiring more information about this advisory can contact Health Canada's public enquiries line at 613-957-2991, or toll free at 1-866-225-0709.

Regarding health products containing bitter apricot kernels as an ingredient, you can report any adverse reactions associated with the use of health products to the Canada Vigilance Program by one of the following three ways: 

To havepostage pre-paid, download the postage paid label from the MedEffect™ Canada Web site. The Canada Vigilance Reporting Form and the adverse reaction reporting guidelines may also be obtained via this website.

In relation to foods that contain these kernels, or the whole kernels themselves, you can report a potential food safety incident to the  Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

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