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Sulfites in food can be found, among others in wines and dried fruits, however, these preservatives can be found in many other food preparations, especially fruit and vegetables. Sulfur dioxide is a commonly used preservative and antioxidant that prevents microbial spoilage of food and protects it from darkening. For sulphites, the standard of acceptable daily consumption has been established. Most people experience no side effects from consuming sulfites. However, they can be very dangerous for hypersensitive people and asthmatics.

Sulfur dioxide andsulfites in foodcan occur naturally, be formed during the production process or be added to the food product. Sulfur dioxide is a colorless gas that dissolves in water and in the aqueous phase of food products. Traditionally, since the 17th century, it has been used as a preservative and antioxidant in solid products and beverages. Sulfur compounds added to food are described by symbols fromE220toE228and include: sulfur dioxide, sulphites and calcium, sodium and potassium bisulphites. They all have the same function in food.

Why are sulfites added to food?

Sulfites are powerful antimicrobial compounds that help prevent food spoilage from bacteria, fungi and mold, as well as yeasts for which they are least effective. In addition, they protect food products against browning, especially fruit, vegetables and white wine, by inhibiting the action of the enzyme polyphenol oxidase. They maintain their desired color and taste. Sulphites are active only in an acidic environment. At a neutral pH, they lose their preservative properties. The ordinance of the Minister of He alth on permitted additives of September 18, 2008 allows the use of sulfur dioxide and sulphites in food, however, it sets limits for this preservative in individual food products. All sulfur compounds used in food are treated together from the point of view of safety, because they exhibit similar properties after consumption.

In what products are sulfites found?

Sulfites occur naturally in asparagus, chives and starchcorn, eggs, salmon, dried cod, garlic, leeks, lettuce, maple syrup, onions, soybeans and tomatoes. They are most commonly found in wine and other fermented products as well as fruit and vegetable preserves. However, the list of products to which they can be added is long. On the packaging of food products containing sulfites in an amount greater than 10 mg / kg, we meet the following terms: preservative E220, preserved with sulfur, contains sulfites, but the manufacturer is not obliged to provide information about their amount in the product. Sulfur compounds cannot be used for preserving fresh products, but only for preserves. In the United States, until 1986, it was common practice to sprinkle fruits and vegetables with sulfur dioxide to keep them fresh longer. It was forbidden by law after more than a dozen cases of asthmatics died as a result of eating sprayed vegetables and fruits.

Foods to which sulfur dioxide and sulphites may be used

Maximum level in the food [mg / kg or mg / l] expressed as sulfur dioxide

Dry biscuits




Pearl barley


Processed potatoes (including frozen)


Dry white vegetables


White processed vegetables


Dried ginger


Dried Tomatoes


Horseradish pulp


Fruits and vegetables in vinegar, oil or brine


Dried mushrooms


Dried apricots, peaches, grapes, plums and figs


Dried bananas


Dried apples and pears


Dried coconut


Candied fruit and citrus peel


Jams, jellies and marmalades


Concentrated grape juice intended for home wine making


Lemon and lime juice




Grape wine


Cider, fruit wine




This will be useful to you

How to avoid excess sulfur dioxide in your diet?

Sulfur dioxide is safe if it is not consumed in amounts greater than 0.7 mg / kg body weight. Due to the difficulties in estimating the amount of sulfite intake, it is worth following a few rules that will help minimize the risk of overconsumption.

1.Choose non-sulfurized dried fruit.

More and more often in shops you can buy dried fruit that has not been preserved with sulfur dioxide. Apricots are the easiest to recognize - they are brown in color, but this does not mean that they are of lower quality.

2.Rinse sulfurized dried fruit in warm water.

3.Check labels and choose sulfite-free products if possible.

4.Choose dry red wine.

All wines contain sulfites, even high-grade ones, because they are produced naturally in the fermentation process. However, they are also often added. White wines contain more sulphites than red wines, and sweet wines - more than dry ones. Red dry wine has the lowest content.

Can sulfites be dangerous to your he alth?

Sulfur dioxide and sulphites are considered safe for he alth if they are not consumed in an amount in excess of the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI), which is 0.7 mg / kg body weight. However, it is difficult to determine exactly how much sulphite we eat, because their amounts are not strictly defined on the packaging of food products. In addition, sulfur compounds significantly reduce the absorption of vitamin B1, a small part of the population (estimated 0.05%) is hypersensitive to sulphites, and in 5-10% of asthmatics this preservative exacerbates respiratory problems and can even cause anaphylactic shock. Scientific data on the effects of sulphites on the human body are limited, but it is known that they are not indifferent to he alth. The consumption of sulphites may affect the immune system and initiate intolerance reactions. Studies have shown that sulfur dioxide does not cause cancer in humans. There are indications that this compound causes DNA damage and is carcinogenic in mice.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) estimates thatdietary sulphite intake may be higher than the legal limit, so experts recommend that food packaging should contain accurate information on the concentration of sulfur dioxide in the product, and by 2022 a re-evaluation of the acceptable daily intake value based on new scientific data is to be carried out.

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Author: Time S.A

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Side effects of consuming sulfites

The vast majority of people do not experience any side effects from consuming products preserved with sulfur dioxide. However, in hypersensitive individuals, this preservative may cause an allergic reaction within 15-30 minutes of ingestion, symptoms of which include:

  • hives and itching;
  • indigestion, diarrhea, vomiting;
  • difficulty swallowing;
  • reddening of the skin;
  • dizziness;
  • drop in blood pressure;
  • breathing problems.

Foods containing sulfites should be avoided by asthmatics. Up to 10% of people with asthma may be allergic to sulphites, which in combination is even a risk of loss of life as it can cause anaphylactic shock. Hypersensitive people should strictly avoid foods and drinks with sulfur dioxide.

The mechanism of action of sulfites in hypersensitive people is not clear. According to one theory, these people lack an enzyme that metabolizes sulfites and removes them from the body. Another hypothesis is that the immune system is overstimulated.

Sources: 1. SO2SAY Result at a glance, Safety of sulphite use - data necessary for risk assessment, Regulation of the Minister of He alth on permitted additives of September 18, 2008 4. Freedman B.J., Sulfur dioxide in foods and beverages: its use as a preservative and its effect on asthma, Br J Dis Chest., 1980, 74 (2), 128-134.5. Vally H. et al., Clinical effects of sulphite additives, Clin Exp Allergy, 2009, 39 (11), 1643-16516. Lien K-W. et al., Food safety risk assessment for estimating dietary intake of sulfites in the Taiwanese population, Toxicology Reports, 2016, 3, 544-5517.

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