Cyanogenic glycosides, found in a range of plant-based foods, can pose potential risks to consumers. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (NZ MPI) coordinated a survey of foods containing cyanogenic glycosides between 2010-13 in consultation with Australian states and territories.
Almost 300 samples of plant-based foods were collected and analysed. The survey identified that cyanogenic glycosides (measured as hydrocyanic acid or HCN) are present in a wide range of Australian and New Zealand plant-based foods at levels consistent with or lower than those reported in the scientific literature. Raw apricot kernels with skin contained HCN concentrations substantially higher than any other food analysed.
The survey also identified that the HCN levels detected in the analysed foods were within the regulatory limits for HCN (where regulatory limits exist) in all but two cases. One sample of cassava root did not meet the criteria for ‘sweet cassava’ (which is the type of cassava permitted for sale in Australia and New Zealand), as HCN levels exceeded 50 mg HCN/kg.
One sample of apricot nectar did not comply with the current Maximum Level (ML) of 5 mg HCN/kg permitted in stone fruit juices. These samples were reported to the relevant enforcement agencies for follow-up, as deemed appropriate.
Cyanogenic glycoside toxicity may result in acute cyanide poisoning and it has also been associated with several chronic diseases. A risk assessment was undertaken to determine whether there are any public health and safety issues associated with consuming foods containing cyanogenic glycosides at the levels detected in the survey.
The risk assessment identified that consumption of raw apricot kernels both with and without skin can pose an acute public health and safety risk for Australians and New Zealanders.
Although traditionally considered high risk foods in regards to HCN, there was no appreciable health and safety risk for consumers in relation to the consumption of cassava roots and bamboo shoots.
What is FSANZ doing to address the problem?