Food Truth Freedom

Your food, where it comes from & what's in it

Sulfites In Food: Sodium Metabisulfite


I’m on a sauerkraut kick now.  I’ve noticed, however, that many brands contain sodium metabisulfite – commonly called sulfites. So, as usual, when I come across an ingredient that I have no idea what it is, I have to write about it.

Sulfites are added to foods as a preservative.  You’ll find them in wine and alcoholic beverages, fermented foods like sauerkraut, hot dogs, some pastries, drink mixes, relishes and dried fruit snacks (trail mixes). They are also present in canned fruit products and juices, salad dressings, meat, poultry and many other products.

Food Group Specific Foods
Alcoholic Beverages Some beers, cocktail mixes, wine, wine coolers, champagne.
Pastries Fruit pies, Cookies, crackers, mixes with dried fruits or vegetables, pie crust, pizza crust, quiche crust, flour tortillas.
Drink Mixes Dried citrus fruit beverage mixes.
Condiments and Relishes Wasabi, horseradish, onion and pickle relishes, pickles, olives, salad dressing mixes, wine vinegar, pickled ginger.
Sugars, Syrups Brown, raw, powdered or white sugar derived from sugar beets. Corn syrup, maple syrup, fruit toppings, and Syrups high-fructose corn syrup, pancake syrup.
Dairy Filled milk (a specially prepared skim milk in which vegetable oils, rather than animal fats, are added to increase its fat content).
Medicines Antiemetics (taken to prevent nausea), cardiovascular drugs, antibiotics, tranquilizers, intravenous muscle relaxants, analgesics (painkillers), anesthetics, steroids and nebulized bronchodilator solutions (used for treatment  of asthma).
Seafood Canned clams; fresh, frozen, canned or dried shrimp; frozen lobster; scallops; dried cod, frozen shrimp.
Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Fresh potatoes that have been cut for french fries and hash-browns.
Gelatins, Puddings, and Fillings Fruit fillings, flavored and unflavored gelatin, pectin jelling agents.
Grains Cornstarch, modified food starch, spinach pasta, gravies, hominy, breadings, batters, noodle/rice mixes.
Jams, preserves, and jellies Jams and jellies.
Nuts Shredded coconut.
Canned fruit products Canned, bottled or frozen fruit juices (including lemon, lime, grape and apple); dried fruit; canned, bottled or frozen dietetic fruit or fruit juices; maraschino cherries and glazed fruit.
Canned Vegetable products Vegetable juice, canned vegetables (including potatoes), pickled vegetables (including sauerkraut), dried vegetables, instant mashed potatoes, frozen potatoes and store-bought potato salad.
Snacks Dried fruit snacks, trail mixes, filled crackers, granola bars.
Soups Canned seafood soups, dried soup mixes.
Teas Instant tea, liquid tea concentrates, canned tea drinks.

Sulfites are common food additives as well as bleaching agents in seafoods such as shrimp & lobster.  They inhibit bacterial growth, prevent browning on vegetables and fruits, and used as potency stabilizers in medications.

About 1 in every 100 people have an allergy to sulfites. It is common for the allergy to manifest itself later in life in the 40’s or 50’s.

Symptoms of a sulfite allergy can include:

Tightness of the throat, headache, runny nose, sneezing or hives.  They can even cause an asthmatic reaction.

Asthmatics that are steroid-dependent or have a great degree of airway hyperreactivity may be at an increased risk of having a reaction to a sulfite containing food (Lester, 1995). Varying degrees of bronchospasm, nausea, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea are commonly reported (Knodel, 1997). Adverse reactions to sulfites in nonasthmatics are extremely rare.

Different names for commonly used sulfites are:

  • Sulphite ammonia caramel
  • Caustic sulphite caramel b
  • Sodium bisulphite (sodium hydrogen sulphite)
  • Sodium sulphite
  • Potassium metabisulphite
  • Sodium metabisulphite
  • Potassium sulphite
  • Calcium hydrogen sulphite
  • Calcium sulphite
  • Potassium hydrogen sulphite
  • Sulfur Dioxide (not a true sulfite, but chemically very close)


University of Florida: Sulfites-Separating Fact From Fiction – Do Sulfites Cause Disease?


Author: Bernice Matherson

Humanitarian, environmental and food activist, blogging on current societal issues. My blogs cover what's in our food and how it affects our health; the effects of our seemingly small actions regarding chemical and pesticide use in and around our homes and its impact on our Earth.

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