22 September 2011
Vegetable chips containing large amounts of cyanide may still be on sale in Australia, despite new regulations restricting cyanide content in food products made from cassava.
Researchers who tested imported packets of vegetable crisps and frozen peeled and chopped cassava root from Melbourne and Canberra shops found levels of cyanide much greater than the limit of 10 parts per million (ppm) set by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) (Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 2011; in press).
Products made from cassava, a starchy root vegetable that naturally contains cyanide, are establishing a growing place in the Australian health food market, according to researcher Associate Professor Ros Gleadow from Monash University.
While highly processed cassava products manufactured within Australia since January this year adhered to food safety standards, some imported products contained potentially lethal amounts of the poison.
"The most alarming example of this trend is 262 ppm in one brand of cassava chips bought in 2010," she said.
"A child of 20 kg body weight would only need to eat 40–270 grams of these very high cyanide chips to reach the lethal dose – potentially that’s just one bag [of chips]."
Professor Gleadow said the study suggested better labelling and enforcement of food standards were needed.
Australian food authorities have periodically issued warnings to consumers, and NSW Health recommends restricting consumption of cassava-based vegetable chips and crackers to less than 100 grams per day.
A spokesperson for FSANZ said "proper processing" removed toxins (poisons) from cassava, but a maximum level of cyanide allowed in chips was set in 2009 at 10 ppm.
Compliance with the limit was monitored in Australia and enforced by states and territories, she said.
Last Reviewed: 26 September 2011