• Open Access

Scientific Opinion on the risks for public health related to the presence of opium alkaloids in poppy seeds


  • EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM)

  • Panel members: Jan Alexander, Diane Benford, Alan Boobis, Sandra Ceccatelli, Bruce Cottrill, Jean-Pierre Cravedi, Alessandro Di Domenico, Daniel Doerge, Eugenia Dogliotti, Lutz Edler, Peter Farmer, Metka Filipič, Johanna Fink-Gremmels, Peter Fürst, Thierry Guérin, Helle Katrine Knutsen, Miroslav Machala, Antonio Mutti, Martin Rose, Josef Schlatter and Rolaf van Leeuwen
  • Correspondence: contam@efsa.europa.eu
  • Acknowledgement: The Panel wishes to thank the members of the Working Group on Poppy seeds: Diane Benford, Andrew Cockburn, Daniel Doerge, Birgit Dusemund, Peter Fürst and Jan-Willem van der Laan for the preparatory work on this scientific opinion and the hearing expert éva Németh-Zámboriné, and EFSA staff: Katleen Baert, Gina Cioacata, José Cortinas Abrahantes, Jean-Lou Dorne and Liisa Valsta for the support provided to this scientific opinion. The CONTAM Panel acknowledges all European competent authorities and other stakeholders that provided opium alkaloids occurrence data for food and supported the consumption data collection for the Comprehensive European Food Consumption Database.
  • Adoption date: 5 October 2011
  • Published date: 8 November 2011
  • Question number: EFSA-Q-2010-00961
  • On request from: European Commission


Poppy seeds are obtained from the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum L.). They are used in bakery products, on top of dishes, in fillings of cakes and in desserts and to produce edible oil. The opium poppy plant contains narcotic alkaloids such as morphine and codeine. Poppy seeds do not contain the opium alkaloids, but can become contaminated with alkaloids as a result of insect damage, or through poor harvesting practices. The European Commission asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to provide a scientific opinion on the risks for public health related to the presence of opium alkaloids in poppy seeds intended for human consumption. Following a call for data, EFSA received the results from analyses of opium alkaloids, primarily morphine, codeine, thebaine, papaverine and noscapine, in samples of poppy seeds, bakery products and baking ingredients. Based on the relative prevalence of the alkaloids present in poppy seed and food samples analysed, and on their pharmacological potency, the EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM Panel) concluded that the risk assessment could be based on dietary exposure to morphine alone. The CONTAM Panel applied an uncertainty factor of 3 to establish from the lowest known single oral therapeutic dose of 30 µg morphine/kg body weight (b.w.) an acute reference dose (ARfD) of 10 μg morphine/kg b.w. Estimates of dietary exposure to morphine from foods containing poppy seed demonstrate that the ARfD can be exceeded during a single serving by some consumers, particularly children, across the EU. This risk assessment relates to poppy seed samples with an alkaloid profile comparable to that of the submitted data and should not be extrapolated to poppy seed samples with a qualitatively different alkaloid profile.